Greatest sports rivalries: Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O’Neal

Los Angeles Lakers centre Shaquille O'Neal, right, talks with guard Kobe Bryant during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2002. The Lakers won 111-99. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)

On the court, Kobe and Shaq were one of the most dominant guard–big man combos in NBA history—winners of three straight titles with the Lakers. Off it, their mutual enmity and willingness to air their dirty laundry made for the greatest teammate-on-teammate rivalry ever.

Fresh off the Lakers’ first championship since 1988, O’Neal came into the ’00–01 season out of shape. The focus of the offence shifted to Bryant. O’Neal wasn’t pleased.

SHAQ: “When it was clear that everything went through me, the outcome of it was 67-15, playing with enthusiasm, the city jumping up and down, and a parade. And now we’re 23-11. You figure it out.”

KOBE: “Tone my game down? I need to turn it up. How are you going to bottle me up? I’d be better off playing somewhere else.”

SHAQ: “When you feed the big dog, the dog will be happy . . . if the big dog ain’t me, then the house won’t get guarded—period.”

After Bryant underwent surgery on his shoulder and knee, O’Neal kicked off the ’03–04 season with some passive aggression.

SHAQ: “He should probably look to be more of a passer until he gets his legs strong.”

KOBE: “I definitely don’t need advice.”

SHAQ: “As long as it’s my team, then I’ll voice my opinion. If you don’t like it, then opt out.”

KOBE: “This is his team, so it’s time for him to act like it. That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape. If leaving the Lakers at the end of the season is what I decide, a major reason for that will be Shaq’s childlike selfishness and jealousy.”

In 2004, the L.A. Times reported that Bryant, having been arrested for sexual assault, told detectives he “should have done what Shaq does . . . that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything.”

SHAQ: “I never hang out with Kobe, I never hung around him . . . So how this guy can think he knows anything about me or my business is funny . . . I’m not the one buying love. He’s the one buying love.”

After L.A. lost in the 2008 Finals, a video emerged of O’Neal freestyling in a club.

SHAQ: “You know how I be/Last week Kobe couldn’t do without me . . . Kobe, [expletive], tell me how my ass taste.”

Kobe’s revenge came in 2010, when he won his fifth NBA championship.

KOBE: “I just got one more than Shaq. You can take that to the bank . . . You guys know how I am. I don’t forget anything.”

SHAQ: “Congratulations Kobe, u deserve it. U played great. Enjoy it man enjoy it. I know what ur sayin ‘Shaq how my ass taste.’”


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