As Kobe Bryant plays out his 20th and final season with the Lakers, The Times has reached out to players, coaches and broadcasters for recollections about his career.
Shaquille O'Neal was the center on the Lakers' title teams with Bryant in the early 2000s, the two hooking up to win three consecutive NBA championships from 2000-02, doing so many times while feuding. Here is Shaq's story about Kobe taking over Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers after O'Neal had fouled out:
"My favorite Kobe story was when we were going back and forth against Indiana and I had fouled out. So I'm thinking damn, here we go again. I [messed] up. Remember I was killing Rik Smits and I fouled out and they made that run? Everybody was worried, including [then-Lakers coach) Phil [Jackson]. And Kobe came up to me and said, 'Don't worry. I got it.'
"That's when he put on that show. That's when I got behind the podium after the game and said, 'Kobe is the best player in the world!'
"I was nervous and he was like, 'Big Fella, I'll be here. You ain't got to worry about [anything].' That's when I knew he was 'real- real.' I always knew he was real.
"But you know how [Michael] Jordan is real-real in the clutch? Magic Johnson is real-real in the clutch. That's when I put Kobe in that category. He saved my ass.
"When people ask me about Kobe and MJ, I say I'm from the younger era and I feel you always have to give it up to the ones before you. I've got to go with MJ. Just like you always ask me — me or Wilt (Chamberlain)? Wilt. Me or Bill [Russell]? Gotta say Bill. Even with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. I'm going to say Kareem. If it wasn't for them, it would be no me. But I don't mind. And Kobe is in the same breath as MJ.
"I do think about how we could have won more championships together — all the time. I think about that one we lost to Detroit [in 2004]. That would have been awesome."
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