- Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal discuss their time playing together and their once-notorious feud in “Players Only: Shaq & Kobe,” a sit-down conversation for TNT.
- In one highlight, Bryant discusses preparing to fight O’Neal at the practice facility after fiery criticisms back and forth in the media, only to have the fight broken up before it occurred.
- Though some topics are left out, it’s clear the two players have long gotten over their feud and revere their days playing together.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal have long been over their infamous beef, but in “Players Only: Shaq & Kobe,” a new sit-down conversation for TNT, the two stars discuss how their quarrels broke up a great NBA dynasty.
Bryant and O’Neal won three championships together with the Los Angeles Lakers, pulling off the NBA’s last “three-peat” and were a perennial contender in the early 2000s.
However, infighting and contract disputes broke up the team, as the two stars traded barbs both in and out of the media. The Lakers eventually traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat, making it clear they were hitching their wagon to Bryant as the franchise player, cementing a rivalry between the two players.
“Me and you weren’t always smiling and hugging,” O’Neal says.
Bryant and O’Neal fought over several subjects, even as they competed for championships — roles on the team, shots, contracts, playing shape, etc. O’Neal at one point tells Bryant he didn’t train hard in the offseason because he knew Bryant could carry the team as he got back into shape when the season began. Bryant excelled as the No. 1 option for the team and didn’t want to return to being the No. 2 option when O’Neal got healthy.
“When you got back into shape, it was hard then,” Bryant says. “[Former Lakers head coach] Phil [Jackson] tried to dial that back … Phil’s like, ‘Okay, we gotta rein you back in now.’
‘Rein me back in? For what’?” Bryant says.
In 2003, Bryant gave a fiery interview to ESPN in which he called O’Neal “childlike” and jealous and criticized O’Neal’s leadership. The interview came after O’Neal had criticized Bryant’s play, role on the team, and contract status. In the special, Bryant says after the interview made national news, he showed up at the Lakers practice facility expecting to fight O’Neal. The two were stopped by then-Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw.
“This was me at my craziest,” Bryant says. “This is what I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to drive to practice, we’re going to fight, it’s going to be awesome. I may get beat to a pulp, but you know what, it’s gonna be a good one.'”
He adds: “I knew what I said … This is it, it’s coming to a head, we’re gonna go in here, we’re gonna be grown men about it, we’re gonna fight it out, and what comes out of it, comes out of it.” The fight never occurred.
The Lakers traded O’Neal in 2004, shortly after he had demanded a new contract from the Lakers. O’Neal says he was upset by the decision, but understood the business of it. The two players’ rivalry intensified after, highlighted by a Christmas Day game between the Lakers and Heat in which they didn’t shake hands.
Over several years, the rivalry died down. O’Neal won a championship with the Heat — which Bryant says he wanted so he could use it as motivation — and Bryant later led the Lakers to two championships as the No. 1 option. In 2009, the two were co-MVPs of the All-Star Game and were friendly the entire game.
“They loved us so much,” O’Neal says. “They wanted to keep our beef going.”
The special also highlights the difference in personalities between the two players. Bryant, an obsessive hard-worker, discusses training 10 hours a day and several times says he used slights to his advantage. O’Neal discusses eating cheeseburgers in the offseason to enjoy the fruits of his labor the previous year. On the topic of O’Neal’s notorious freestyle rap in which he told Bryant to “tell me how my a– tastes,” Bryant says he loved it because he used it as motivation; O’Neal says he was just trying to be funny at a comedy club.
The special leaves some topics out. Bryant’s rape trial is never discussed, and Bryant doesn’t address criticizing O’Neal for not reaching out to him during the trial. The motivations of some of their harshest comments are never really discussed, nor do they openly discuss how the feud ended one of the most dominant teams the NBA has seen.
The special airs at 7pm ET on Saturday on TNT.