All it needed was a programming slot to be the best reality show on TV from 1999 through 2004 during the
The real-life drama starred Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, two of the
Even then-NBA commissioner
"The Lakers versus the Lakers," Stern said, half-jokingly.
The feud reached a zenith during the 2003-04 season. O'Neal, who was showing some wear and tear, was traded to Miami the following summer, while the Lakers bet their future on Bryant.
"Especially us, the 'young brothers,' we always worry about useless titles," O'Neal recently told The Times. "Like, 'I'm the man. It's my team.' Stuff that doesn't matter anyway. And I think there was a little bit too much focus on that by both of us. However, we were able to overcome that and still find a way to dominate and play together."
Bryant and O'Neal joined the Lakers before the 1996-97 season. O'Neal, who'd left Orlando as a free agent, was an All-Star. Bryant, acquired in a draft-day trade with Charlotte, was a confident teenage rookie. Both wanted the ball.
Bryant and O'Neal won three consecutive championships, from 2000-02, even while tension simmered along the way. O'Neal led the team in scoring in those championship seasons, won a league most-valuable-player award in 2000 and was NBA Finals MVP for all three titles. In their last two seasons together, Bryant led the Lakers in scoring.
Bryant was the workaholic in the off-season, while O'Neal's mantra was he'd get in shape during the season.
But at no time was O'Neal willing to hand over the mantle of the team to Bryant.
"What hurt L.A.? Young egos — Kobe's and Shaq's," said former Lakers guard
"But if they could have just found a way to coexist a little damned bit, just a little bit, they could have won five championships on the same team — six championships, seven championships. . . .
"They had a great head coach in
In his final three years with the Lakers, O'Neal played in just 67 regular-season games each season, with various injuries keeping him off the court.
Meanwhile, Bryant was ascending as one of the world's preeminent players.
Bryant was no longer the Robin to O'Neal's Batman, in his teammates' eyes, no longer willing to take a back seat to his more brash teammate.
"They were 1A and 1A. That's what created all the anxiety," said former Lakers forward
The Lakers put together what fans thought would be a dream team in the summer of 2003, getting free agents
But the circus that always surrounded the Lakers turned serious when Bryant was charged with sexual assault in July 2003 (the charge was later dropped). During the 2003-04 season, he often flew to Eagle, Colo., for his legal case and returned to play in a game that night.
The relationship between the two stars reached its low point.
When the Lakers convened for training camp in Hawaii in 2003, O'Neal said, "The full team is here," even though Bryant hadn't arrived yet.
On the eve of the 2003-04 season, Bryant lambasted his antagonist, saying O'Neal needed to stop "coming to camp fat and out of shape."
This was how the saga played throughout the season, their teammates just bystanders to the never-ending quarrel.
"What neither one of them realized is the effect that it had on the rest of us," said former guard
"The four years I was there, it was the same. So I still don't know if I ever thought it went so south that it wasn't going to be able to work. Because at the end of the day, they always were able to, once they got onto the court, just play ball. I don't think that they ever went out of their way, either one of them, to not perform and do their best to win when they were playing together on the floor."
The Lakers lost in the 2004 NBA Finals to Detroit, leading to the end of a dynasty that left even
That summer O'Neal was shipped to the Heat, Jackson was sent packing and Lakers owner
"I think our time had just run its course," O'Neal said. "But we were the most dominant one-two punch in Lakers history. I said it. Write it down. Take a picture. Fax it to all the retired Lakers. I said it. The most enigmatic, dominant, controversial one-two punch in Lakers history."
Follow Broderick Turner on Twitter: @BA_Turner