Shaquille O’Neal spent eight years with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he and Kobe Bryant guided the team’s tremendous success. O’Neal’s time in Los Angeles ended abruptly, leading him to spend the remaining playing days elsewhere. However, the Hall of Fame big man still regrets not playing the rest of his career with the Lakers.
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant transformed the Lakers into an NBA powerhouse
Bryant and O’Neal spent eight seasons together in Los Angeles, transforming the franchise into an NBA powerhouse.
The star duo anchored the Lakers’ tremendous success, leading the team to three straight NBA titles to start the 2000s. O’Neal experienced his best campaigns, earning three NBA Finals MVP awards, a regular-season MVP award, seven All-Star game selections, and five All-NBA First Team nods.
Meanwhile, Bryant became one of the game’s best talents, racking up five All-Star selections, three All-NBA First Team nominations, two All-NBA Second Team selections, and three NBA All-Defensive First Team nominations.
With the entire experience in hindsight, O’Neal remains bothered by what could have been.
Shaquille O’Neal regrets not finishing his career with the Lakers alongside Kobe Bryant
O’Neal’s departure from Los Angeles completely shifted the course of his career.
The Heat presented a unique opportunity to shape his legacy away from Bryant and the Lakers. However, it’s a move he wishes wouldn’t have transpired despite his success in Miami.
I got money, I had money. I just should have been like, ‘All right, I raised you enough. It’s your team now.’ I know what I’m gonna do,’ O’Neal voiced during an interview on All the Smoke podcast. ‘I’m still gonna do my 28 [points] and 10 [rebounds]. But I was like, ‘Nah, I want 150 [million dollars]. If I had to do it all over again, probably would have had a meeting with the [Buss] family. ‘What y’all wanna do? Want me to take less money, take a lesser role, stay here or you still want me to be Shaq?’ See, it’s that ego.
“The ego still got me what I wanted. I still went to Miami, Pat [Riley] took care of me and I still won one. But I would’ve liked to have stayed there for the rest of my career.”
O’Neal captured his fourth NBA title, but what he experienced with Bryant far exceeded anything he accomplished away from Los Angeles. Despite all the internal friction, the two managed to lead the franchise to three championships in four NBA Finals trips.
The lack of maturity between them, coupled with O’Neal’s desire for another lucrative long-term contract, pushed them apart. Bryant was beginning to come into his own as the primary offensive factor while O’Neal, who was 31 years old at the time, began to experience a decline in his performance.
Ultimately, a battle of egos led to a split and prevented the two stars from potentially vying for a few more championships together.
Kobe Bryant reached more success with the Lakers without Shaquille O’Neal
Although the Lakers’ decision to stick with Bryant over O’Neal initially received backlash, it became the more beneficial move.
The first two years didn’t transpire promisingly, with Shaquille O’Neal winning an NBA title with the Heat. After that point, things shifted significantly in the Lakers’ favor.
Los Angeles remained a playoff constant after the first year O’Neal departed. Bryant experienced internal tumult stemming from his public trade demand before the 2007-08 campaign, but that sentiment entirely changed after the Lakers acquired star big man Pau Gasol.
Gasol’s arrival shifted the dynamic in Los Angeles as they became a powerhouse. The Lakers reached three straight NBA Finals, winning a pair of NBA titles. Meanwhile, the team won five consecutive Pacific division titles and reached at least the Western Conference semifinals in each campaign.
During that span, O’Neal’s performance and health began to wane. He went from an imposing centerpiece of a franchise to an effective supplemental factor.
It wasn’t all roses for Bryant, as nagging injuries significantly impacted his final three seasons after suffering torn Achilles in April 2013. Despite that, the overall arc of his time post-O’Neal featured highly successful moments that triumphant what the fellow Hall of Famer accomplished.