No matter how much they try to detach from each other, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant will forever be linked in Lakers lore.
The duo brought home three consecutive championships to the franchise and reached the NBA Finals four times in five seasons. The Shaq-and-Kobe era gave Laker fans a multitude of unforgettable moments, including the spectacular alley-oop play to clinch the Western Conference championship in 2000, the dominant 15-1 playoff run in 2001, and the sweep three-peat in 2002. Oh, they also had legendary battles off the court, which oftentimes overshadowed their accomplishments on the court. But that’s to be expected given the enormous egos both players possess.
At the end of the day, Shaq and Kobe are a part of a very important chapter in Lakers history.
Another page was added to that chapter in Philadelphia on Monday, Feb. 6, after Bryant passed O’Neal on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, moving into fifth place with just Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him. The 33-year-old Bryant, the NBA’s leading scorer with 29.4 points, has 28,601 career points – all wearing the purple and gold jersey.
Bryant said it was an honor to pass O’Neal because of their history together.
“All the battles we’ve been in, the playoff battles, the duo that we’ve been able to form,” Bryant said after his historic night in his hometown, where he has been booed loudly on each visit. “When you (consider) the championships, it makes it a little more significant.”
Bryant’s record-setting night wasn’t lost on O’Neal. The Big Fella sent a congratulatory note to Bryant via Twitter and thanked Kobe for helping form one of the greatest 1-2 punches in NBA history. Shaq’s tweet:
O’Neal retired after the 2011 season. He no longer is interested in petty battles with his old foe Kobe, and if you notice he’s going out of his way to praise his former teammate every chance he gets. Shaq is smart enough to realize that he looks like a bitter old guy if he continued his pot shots at Kobe. Bryant will go down as the greatest Laker of all time and Shaq won’t be too far behind. They may not be great friends off the court, but they’re both realizing what they brought to the game when they set aside their differences, which they did for the most part.
Shaq’s message to Kobe appears to be genuine, and he has said on several occasions that Kobe is the best player he’s ever seen. Remember, it was Shaq who put his arms around a then 18-year-old Bryant when he air-balled those two shots in the 1997 playoff game against Utah. And it was Shaq who called Kobe “the best player on the planet” during the Lakers’ playoff series against San Antonio in 2001.
The Colorado sexual assault case in 2004 drove a huge stake into their relationship, which neither man has never gotten over. Kobe was mad at Shaq for “not calling him” after he was charged with rape while Shaq was upset with Kobe for “throwing him under the bus” with the statements he made to Colorado authorities about paying women to keep quiet, and Kobe dug himself an ever deeper whole when he unleashed on Shaq in his interview with Jim Gray.
Time heals all wounds, and that appears to be the case with both MEN. Yes, they are now men not boys. Over time, they have to realize that they have to let go of the past and move on. When it is all said and done and both are long gone from the game, Kobe will realize how important Shaq was to his legacy and Shaq will realize how important Kobe was to his legacy.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.