Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were possibly the greatest duo the NBA has even witnessed.
However, as everyone knows, the superstar duo had a public falling out, which resulted in the breakup of one of the most prolific one-two punches in the league’s history.
The pair played together from 1996-2004 as members of the Los Angeles Lakers. During that time, Shaq and Kobe brought “Showtime” back to the Staples Center after the Lakers experienced a handful of unusually mediocre seasons.
The Lakers acquired Shaq via free agency in the summer of 1996. The 7-footer was in the prime of his career and had just led the Orlando Magic to the NBA finals. That same summer, the Lakers made the steal of the 1996 NBA Draft when the team traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to a skinny 17 year old by the name of Kobe Bryant.
And just like that, the Lakers quickly added its two most important pieces of what soon became a historic run filled with extreme highs, as well as some lows.
The two guided the team to three consecutive NBA Championships from 2000-2002 and made another NBA Finals appearance in 2004 but lost to the Detroit Pistons.
While Kobe was undoubtedly a rising superstar on and off the court, Shaq was without question the leader of the team. He proved this in-part by being named finals MVP in each of the team’s championship victories.
Despite the pair’s unprecedented success, Shaq and Kobe’s relationship was bumpy throughout; this was in large part due to their respective roles. It was no secret that Kobe wanted an even bigger role than what he already had. After all, the Jordan comparisons were getting louder each season and harder to ignore, but the self-proclaimed “Superman” was not willing to accept a lesser role.
With Kobe only 26 years old at the time, Lakers management decided to bet its future on Bryant. The team traded the 33 year-old Shaq, who was obviously no longer the player he used to be when he arrived in L.A. in 1996, to the Miami Heat and re-signed Kobe to a seven-year contract.
Shaq found quick success with his new team, helping lead the Heat to an NBA Championship his second year in Miami. Kobe and the new-look Lakers struggled after the loss of Shaq, but things eventually turned around and Kobe led the team to back-to-back championships during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
While the feud between the two players has been settled for quite some time, the two future hall-of-famers recently sat down for the first time to address their once-rocky relationship and discuss what could have been.
In an excerpt from the interview, which will air in its entirety Monday on Shaq’s podcast “The Big Podcast with Shaq,” O’Neal and Bryant both admitted to having regrets about the way their pairing with the Lakers ended.
This leads many, such as myself, to wonder what type of success the duo could have experienced if they were able to co-exist for at least another five seasons or so.
While both players were able to find success after the breakup, I think it is safe to say Shaq and Kobe would have experienced much greater success together than they did apart.
All we can do now is play with the idea of how many more championship banners would be hanging in the Staples Center if the duo managed to make things work.
Malcolm Walton can be contacted at [email protected]