Eleven years since their very bitter divorce, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal have taken their private relationship public. Appearing on Shaq’s podcast which airs on Monday, Kobe reflects on being Shaq’s teammate in those wonder years. It’s a reminder that the past is never quite past, and that the line is thin between selfless and vain. Young Kobe was arrogantly wild. He was petulantly brilliant. He was idiotic and angry. His moods drove him to be great even as they caused turmoil in the Lakers locker room where Shaq was on one side and he was on the other.
As in any divorce, the children left behind are constantly reminiscing about what would have been had egos not gotten in the way. But, that’s nostalgia and nothing more; it’s wishing on a star. The greatness of Kobe and Shaq was because of their egos, not because of their selflessness. The way it worked out always felt preordained.
Over a decade later, it is a testament to both men’s ability to grow up, mature, forgive and embrace life for what it is, a bunch of lessons. They can now talk about what went wrong absent resentment. Both men prospered, winning titles after their split.
In the podcast excerpt made available to the media, Kobe put all of the blame on himself, saying he was an idiot. What would he take back?
“When you say it at the time you actually mean it and then when you get older and have more perspective and you’re like holy s***, I was an idiot when I was a kid. To me, the most important thing was really just to keep your mouth shut.”
In those years, Phil Jackson would often make the analogy of Kobe and an unbroken horse. Brilliant at basketball didn’t mean mature and it certainly didn’t mean social intelligence particularly because Kobe didn’t know what he didn’t know. Jackson made a point to go at Kobe in the media because he knew Kobe used criticism as fuel. Shaq brooded over crticism that hurt.
After retiring in 2011, Shaq said he regretted not taking care of his body. He saw the numbers. No way would Dirk Nowitzki have the opportunity to pass him on the scoring list as he will do this year. His numbers would have been unassailable. It was the Kobe gripe- Shaq’s work ethic, his summer vacations not being working vacations but jet-ski vacations. In essence, had Shaq been on the Kobe plan he would have added two or three years to his career.
According to Stephen A. Smith, a few years ago Shaq was called into the Lakers locker room. Kobe asked for him. Rather succinctly, Kobe expressed how grateful he was to have played with Shaq, revealing a certain enlightenment: how great Shaq really was. Kobe now knew the difference between great and good, and good and excessively hyped. Shaq was great. Dwight Howard was good and hyped. Howard, on his best day, could never be Shaq. Blame Kobe’s youth. It precipitated his ignorance. At the time and for various reasons, Kobe never valued how exceptional a player Shaquille O’Neal really was. It’s easy to get blinded by the dunks and the shimmy shake and gloss over the consistent excellence and dominance as well as the mental approach just because from time to time Shaq was lazy. But his competitive fire and drive to be the best center of his generation plus his refusal to lose set him apart, or as Shaq loved to say, “the big dog eats first.” Dwight Howard wasn’t a duplicate, he wasn’t a photocopy, he wasn’t a replica, he wasn’t a poor man’s Shaq, or a misunderstood Shaq, he wasn’t a copy, and he wasn’t Shaq in training.
In many ways Kobe and Shaq were the same sort of player. They wanted to be the greatest of all time. They wanted to go one-on-one and eradicate their competition. They had their own personal adversaries they took pleasure in annihilating. They thought nothing of saying, “you can’t stop me”, and then backing it up. Kobe often said to Shaq when the fourth quarter came around, “I got this.” And Shaq often said to Kobe, “just give me the damned ball and we score.” At times they were big brother/little brother. At times they were enemies. At times, they were champions.
In 2001, the Lakers cemented the best run in playoff history, 15-1. The one game they lost was in overtime to Allen Iverson. It was the best of times, cementing a repeat title.
Shaq’s memory is like a pebble in an ocean, all that ripples is the good.
“I changed my thought process of, you know…we won three out of four, what the hell are you talking about, this not really even a story.”
photo via llananba