Shaquille O’Neal and the late great Kobe Bryant are arguably one of the most dominant duos in NBA history. Even though they had their differences, they established a dynasty that will never be forgotten during their time together with the Los Angeles Lakers. When Shaq left Orlando Magic to play for the Lakers in 1996, nobody could ever imagine he would partner up with a kid drafted straight out of high school. Kobe was 18 at the time, and one of the rare people that saw a lot of potential in him was none other than Jerry West, who was the architect of that championship squad.
In a recent interview on The Jimmy Fallon show, Shaq talked about Kobe and his impact on him and the game of basketball. He also remembered the first time he met Kobe, and surprisingly, it was even before they both started playing for the Lakers. Shaq was still a member of the Magic at the time, and it was Kobe who came with his parents to see Penny Hardaway but ended up speaking with Shaq, who completely forgot about meeting him in the first place.
“Actually, Kobe reminded me of the story. I was in Orlando, and him and his family came in the locker room, and he asked Penny for an autograph, and I guess Penny kinda blew him off or whatever, I’m not sure, this is what Kobe was telling me. And then he said he came up to me and I was really nice to him, and I had never knew that until one day he told me (during) his rookie year. He was like, ‘do you remember me?’ I was like ‘nah.’ He was like, ‘I came in the locker room,’ and I was like, ‘oh yeah, that was you.’Shaquille O’Neal, via The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
When Kobe joined the Lakers, it was immediately evident to Shaq, he is a special kid, working harder than everyone he ever met. Shaq is convinced him, and Kobe alone would have won one or two championships based on their talent, but Shaq also paid his respect for the guys who weren’t so exposed but also made their contributions to those championships.
“What I realized I loved about him early on was that he wanted the spot. He wanted to be the best. Kobe and myself, we probably could have gotten one or two on our own, but if it wasn’t for Brian Shaw, Rick Fox, Big Shot Bob, the guys that I call ‘The Others,’ I definitely wouldn’t have four…Shaquille O’Neal, via The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
Their success, later on, became somewhat of a burden for the team because both of their egos clashed, which caused a lot of internal frictions. Kobe always thought Shaq wasn’t dedicated enough, which eventually meant the Lakers had to choose between the two, and they traded Shaq to the Miami Heat. After some years, the two buried their hatchets and squashed all the bad blood between them. Shaq said the respect between them two was always there, but egos were the biggest problem in that relationship.
What I want people to get out of it is that no matter what you may hear or what you see, it was all in the interest of winning. And if I had it to do all over again I’d do it the same way. I always respected the kid, and he always respected me.”Shaquille O’Neal, via The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
There was always a notion Shaq and Kobe could have won more if they had stayed together for a few more years. Both of them even said that they probably had the chance to win one or even two more championships, but different things regarding their relationships happened in a way they did. Things got complicated, and they went their separates but almost equally successful ways.