Depending on who you ask and where their allegiances lie, the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal combo in the early 2000s was one of the most dominant one-two punches of all-time. Together, they won three straight championships, and if you asked them, it would’ve been a lot more if they had ever figured out how to co-exist.
Instead, their acrimonious split will go down as one of the biggest what-ifs in league history and has been the subject of rampant speculation and endless debate about who should bear the brunt of the blame. Though they’ve since buried the hatchet — rather publicly in a one-on-one special for NBA TV a couple of years back — there’s still plenty to parse through from those turbulent days in Lakerland.
In a recent interview for Valuetainment, Kobe once again confirmed that Shaq’s lackadaisical attitude toward fitness was a major point of contention and discussed how an early physical altercation between the two in practice during their early days together actually brought them closer and led to mutual respect. (You can skip to the 2:55 mark of the video for that story).
“He’s told me that that day was a big turning point for him because he’s generally used to talking trash, saying what he wants, and nobody really stepping up and challenging him on that,” Kobe said. “And when he saw me challenge him on that, he was like, ‘this kid is crazy. Alright, I can win with that.’ So that was kind of the beginning of our relationship.”
That Kobe emerged from that fight without being permanently maimed is a small miracle in itself. Though those early battles may have fueled their initial success, it was that same simmering animosity that eventually led to the dissolution of their dynasty, and it’s a reality that each of them have had to come to terms with over the years.