The name of the game is preserving Shaq and Kobe’s legacy, and O’Neal is the one setting the rules. The end goal is for everyone to recognize the Lakers iconic duo as the most dominant pairing in NBA history. Here’s the scoreboard so far.
Comparing them to Anthony Davis and LeBron James, one year into their run together, is a no go. People saying the Lakers’ latest superstar pairing already belong in such a discussion is a reflection of the jump to conclusion culture developed in the NBA, and it’s one of those parallels that that shouldn’t be drawn. Not yet, at least. Let them go back to back first. Then they’d be more suited to be in such a discussion.
Comparing them to others – Magic and Kareem, Michael and Scottie, West and Wilt – is legit. Legacy-wise, they’re all in the same tier of the NBA’s most iconic partnerships. At that point, the name of the game is nitpicking—coaches, players around them, level of competition, all that becomes a part of the equation. That’s when Shaq offers an alternative criterion – hypothetical two on two matchups. Who can beat O’Neal and Bryant going head-to-head?
For Kenny “The Jet” Smith, the answer is easy – it’s Magic and Kareem. But Shaq pushed back against it. “Magic can’t guard Kobe and Kareem can’t guard me,” he said. The consensus response in the Inside the NBA studio was that O’Neal couldn’t guard Kareem either and that the NBA’s all-time leading scorer would’ve had a block party going up against Diesel. But Shaq wasn’t convinced; he’d still take himself and Kobe over those two.
Then Kenny offered an alternative – Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. And while Kobe would still be a mismatch for The Logo, Wilt might be the only guy in NBA history who would be able to match Shaq’s physicality. That’s a matchup even O’Neal likes, and the one he can’t guarantee they’d come out of victorious.
So in Shaq’s mind, the only competition he and Kobe have for the title of the NBA’s most dominant pairing is Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. Everyone else is not up to par.