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All these years later, Kobe Bryant says he didn’t have a power struggle with Shaq

Among the notables at Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling ceremony Friday at Staples Center will be Kobe Bryant, once his teammate and once his rival.

“I’m excited for him,” Bryant said. “Obviously had an amazing career here. He’s taking his rightful place among some of the greatest Lakers of all-time.… This franchise is one of the rare franchises where you’re remembered for the championships you win. To be known as a Laker champion as well as one of the greatest who have ever played. That’s what warrants you a statue in this organization.”

Bryant will speak at the ceremony. He said he plans to thank O’Neal for everything he did for him, like teaching him a more effective leadership style.

Their relationship was sometimes rocky and often dramatic. On the court, despite their personal differences, they were one of the greatest pairs in league history.

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“We played well off of each other,” Bryant said. “That’s the key. His strengths were different from my strengths. You get issues when you have two players that have different personalities but have the same game. When you have two players who have different personalities and different games, then those things can mesh well and mold well. That’s why it worked for us.”

In some ways, everything they accomplished made Bryant even more eager to see what he could do on his own.

“Just the historical context of it all,” Bryant said. “People taking about this relationship in the sense of, ‘Shaq drove the team to winning championships, Kobe couldn’t, he was a great player but he wasn’t a great player,’ quote unquote, ‘on his own to the tune of Bird and Michael and those guys.’ I didn’t want to be remembered that way.

“I couldn’t remember in history a duo of that power going separate ways and being able to lead a team and the different situations. I don’t remember that happening. That was a challenge I took upon myself.”

In the off-season of 2004, Bryant recalls assuming O’Neal was staying with the Lakers. That meant, in order to take on the challenge of winning by himself, Bryant felt he had to leave. When O’Neal realized the Lakers were going in a different direction from him, he demanded a trade. That changed things.

“That put a halt to my free agency because the Lakers were not going to lose Shaq and me in the same year,” Bryant said. “It didn’t feel like a power struggle to me. No, listen, we had a great run together. ‘I’m ready to go play somewhere else and see what I can do there.’ That was where I was at. It wasn’t a power struggle.”

When reminded of O’Neal’s comment during his Hall of Fame speech — that Bryant helped push him to be traded to Miami — Bryant burst out laughing. He said the line was hilarious.

After Bryant won his fifth championship, the final two with Pau Gasol as his sidekick, Bryant declared this meant he had one more than Shaq.

In retrospect, he realizes how special they were together, and how special those teams were.

“You realize now looking back all the teams trying to get there how hard it is to win one championship let alone three,” Bryant said. “And then also we both were very fortunate because we had just a brilliant coaching staff. Everything lined up. We had great players, great vets, great city, great history, great coaching. We were very, very fortunate. Of course, you’ve got to take advantage of the fortune that you’ve been given.”

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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