Shaquille O’Neal used to like Kobe Bryant.
He called him the world’s best player here in 2000, and it was entirely sincere.
Bryant’s most recent stop on his goodbye tour was where he came of age in the NBA Finals. He remembered it fondly Monday before the Lakers lost to the Indiana Pacers, 89-87.
“It was where the run started,” Bryant said of the Lakers’ three consecutive championships.
O’Neal fouled out in Game 4 after a 36-point, 21-rebound effort and Bryant took it from there despite a sprained ankle, helping the Lakers beat the Pacers for a 3-1 series lead.
Bryant made four of five shots in overtime and, with the Lakers ahead by one point, followed Brian Shaw’s miss with an over-the-head bank shot with 5.9 seconds left. The Lakers won, 120-118, and wrapped up the series in six games.
“The rebound was just luck. That was just the basketball gods just looking out for me,” Bryant said.
More skillful were the outside shots he made after O’Neal fouled out halfway through overtime.
“I remember just trying to get comfortable with the ankle and as the game progressed it felt looser and looser,” Bryant said. “When Shaq fouled out … I was just kind of sitting on that opportunity [to make jumpers]. It was just a matter of making them.”
O’Neal, who later fought bitterly with Bryant, recently recounted his memories of that game fondly in an interview with The Times.
“Remember I was killing Rik Smits and I fouled out and they made that run? Everybody was worried, including Phil [Jackson],” he said, mentioning the Lakers coach at the time. “And Kobe came up to me and said, ‘Don’t worry. I got it.’
Bryant had a unique memory of Game 4. He said Monday that the Lakers were staying “two hours” from the arena, somewhat of an exaggeration, and received a police escort to the game in a downpour.
Oddly, a motorcyclist rode alongside the bus and kept doing handstands on his bike. Bryant found it funny.
“It just kind of took the pressure off the game,” he said.
Former Lakers guard Derek Fisher was fired Monday by his ex-coach, Jackson, slightly more than 1 1/2 seasons after Jackson hired him to coach the New York Knicks.
Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) drives by Pacers forward Myles Turner (33) during the first half.(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
Pacers forward Paul George looks on before a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)
Pacers forward Paul George defends against Lakers forward Kobe Bryant during the first half.(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) drives past Pacers forward Paul George (13) during the first half.(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
Pacers center Ian Mahinmi lies bleeding on the floor after being hit in the forehead in the first half of the game.(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) drives to the basket against Pacers forward Paul George (13) during the first half.(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) waves to Indiana Pacers fans as he leaves the game in the final seconds of the second half.(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
Paul George of the Indiana Pacers gets a hug from Kobe Bryant before the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on February 8, in Indianapolis.(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)
Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi reacts after being hit in the face as he was guarded by Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) during the first half.(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) pulls up for a shot in front of Indiana Pacers guard Joe Young (1) during the first half.(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
Lakers forward Julius Randle shoots over Indiana Pacers forward Myles Turner (33) during the first half.(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
Fisher’s firing was “the nature of the beast,” said ex-teammate Bryant, adding that “I’m sure he’ll pop up somewhere as a head coach.”
It was unusual for a coach to come straight from his playing days, Bryant acknowledged, but he knew Fisher enjoyed his new occupation. They hadn’t spoken since the firing, Bryant said.
New York (23-31) had lost five consecutive games and was fading from the Eastern Conference playoff race.