Before Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey retirement ceremony during halftime of Tuesday night’s game at Staples Center, the former Laker superstar talked about the team’s current one.
“There’s two different types of dislike: there’s an athletic dislike and a real dislike. We never had a real dislike,” O’Neal said of Kobe Bryant. “Every time I see his lovely wife and his beautiful children, I always go to his children and say, ‘Hello babies, I’m uncle Shaq.”
O’Neal said that he and Bryant stopped feuding a long time ago.
“We haven’t played since 2004 -- nine, 10 years later -- and you’re still talking about the so-called beef we had? ... I know you all have brothers and sisters, I know you all have disagreements and arguments, but you still love them,” O’Neal said. “He’s my teammate, he’s my brother. I’m proud to call him both.”
O’Neal and Bryant won championships together in 2000, 2001 and 2002 -- but they couldn’t get along. Bryant questioned O’Neal’s work ethic and thought he didn’t keep himself in good enough shape. O’Neal thought Bryant was selfish.
When their discord reached a fever pitch in 2004, Lakers owner Jerry Buss had a decision to make. He chose Bryant, and traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat.
O’Neal said he wants his and Bryant’s shared legacy to be their success, not their struggles.
“I actually get tired of talking about it,” O’Neal said. “I wish you guys would just say that we were the most dominant one-two punch ever created. That’s what I would like to read because that’s what I know we were.”
O’Neal said that he wouldn’t change a thing from their playing days, but he did acknowledge that their bickering might have greatly cost the Lakers.
When asked if they would have won more championships had they remained together, O’Neal didn’t hesitate in his response.
“Of course,” he said.
During O’Neal’s jersey retirement ceremony, Bryant remained in the locker room to stretch and prepare for the second half. (Bryant finished with a triple-double as the Lakers defeated the Mavericks, 101-81.)
“I watched as much on TV as I could,” Bryant said.
In a recorded video message that was played on the Staples Center video screen, Bryant called O’Neal “the most gifted physical specimen I’ve ever seen play this game.”