Shaq Gets Very Honest About Relationship With Kobe Bryant
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant had one of the most fascinating relationships in sports history. At any given time it could be described as complicated, brilliant, maddening, endearing and any one of about a thousand other different adjectives.
A few months ago, in honor of August 23 being Bryant’s birthday and August 24 (8/24) being Mamba Day, O’Neal spoke openly about his complex relationship with the man whose legacy is most closely linked to his own.
“Were we best friends? No,” O’Neal admitted.
“Did we respect the hell out of each other? 1,000%. Do I wish we could’ve talked every day and hung out every day. Yes.”
— ESPN (@espn) August 24, 2020
O’Neal and Bryant led the Lakers to three straight championships between 2000 and 2003. After failing to four-peat against the Detroit Pistons in 2004, in light of growing tensions between the two over a myriad of issues, O’Neal opted to leave LA and join the Miami Heat.
Even when the pair’s relationship was at its all-time worst and most toxic, a genuine respect for the other’s abilities and talents was always there.
O’Neal acknowledged this much during a recent interview.
“There’s a myth that you have to be best friends to win championships,” he said. “We only have to have one thing, and that’s respect. If he goes to the hole with four people coming, he’s dropping it off to me. When I get double or triple teamed, I look for him first. He knows I need him. I’m damn sure he knows he needs me. I was just hurt I would never be able to tell him anything ever again.”
After the break-up, O’Neal won one additional championship and Bryant won two. Both ended up being successful in their own rights.
Nevertheless, one of the greatest what-ifs in NBA history is what would have happened had the duo never broken up.
Paulina Gretzky has taken Masters victory celebrations to a new level. https://t.co/K1yliTiGao
— Game 7 (@game7__) November 22, 2020
Shaq And Kobe Bryant Repaired Their Relationship
Although they often clashed in the beginning and middle portions of their careers, O’Neal and Bryant reconciled towards the end. By the time both men were retired, their relationship was arguably better than it had ever been.
On January 26, 2020, Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash.
The tragic accident had a strong impact on seemingly everyone. Fortunately, regular people could cope in the privacy of their homes.
O’Neal’s process was on full public display, and it often played out in heartbreaking fashion.
This week, O’Neal described what precisely made him so sad about Bryant’s premature passing.
“I don’t want to see anybody go out like that and never to be able to talk to him again,” he said.
“The thing that hurt me was all the stuff that I wanted to say, I hadn’t said it. I never said it.”
O’Neal and Bryant will undoubtedly go down in NBA history as arguably the greatest duo of all time. It is between them and the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen combo. But there is a reasonable case to be made that their bigger legacy is proving that no matter how bad they may seem at certain points, relationships can change.
Hurt feelings can heal.
Petty differences can be resolved.
In their later years, both men realized that the things that drove them apart when they were young and foolish were extremely insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
And while O’Neal no doubt wishes he could have had more time with Bryant to do additional things differently, he can take solace in the fact that he had the opportunity to genuinely turn a foe into a friend, and ultimately repair one of the most meaningful relationships he has ever had in his life.