Last week we learned that Kobe Bryant had joined Shaquille O'Neal on his "The Big Podcast with Shaq." On Monday, the podcast went live.
"I just want people to know I don't hate you, I know you don't hate me," Shaq said as he introduced Bryant, later comparing their battles to a "work beef." Below are the five most interesting and revealing parts from the 20-minute conversation between the two former teammates.
1. They almost came to blows many times
Both Bryant and O'Neal were asked by O'Neal's co-host, Rob Jenners, to name something they learned from one another. Shaq mentioned Game 5 of the Lakers' second-round series against the Jazz in 1997, a game in which Bryant shot three air balls down the stretch.
"We were in Utah. Utah used to kill us all the time and only one guy wanted to take the shot. I didn't want to take the shot, nobody wanted to take the shot," he said.
"This guy took three major shots, he shot air balls. I knew then, 'You know what, this guy's not afraid, he's going to be the (best).' I knew then, I knew that when got in trouble, when I wasn't playing well that he was going to say to himself, 'Shaq's not playing well, I need to step up my game.' He's like the only guy besides Jordan that I've seen do that."
"In '99, two things happened," Kobe responded, referring to the duo's first championship season. "In ’99, I think Shaq realized that, you know, 'This kid is really competitive and he’s a little crazy. And I realized that I probably had a couple of screws loose because I nearly got into a fistfight and I actually was willing to get into a fight with this man. I went home and I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve either got to be the dumbest or the most courageous kid on the face of the Earth.'"
Jenners followed up and asked if the two did indeed "almost go at it."
"Yeah, all the time, we did that all the time," O'Neal answered. "You see, that just showed me that this kid ain't going to back down. Kobe's seen me punk everybody in the league, when this kid would stand up everyday, I was like, 'Shit, this kid ain't going to back down, I knew then that if were down by one and I kicked out he was going to shoot it and he was going make it.'"
"He was either going to beat the shit out of me or I was going to get it done," Bryant said. "I was comfortable with either one."
Listening to the conversation, it becomes clear that both Bryant and O'Neal have a ton or respect for each other despite their run-ins.
2. Shaq never wanted to leave L.A
In O'Neal's view, why couldn't he and Bryant play more than eight seasons together?
"Again, it was two alpha males and the business aspect kicked in, and a lot of people don't know about that, the business aspect kicked in and I was getting older," O'Neal said. "Management was like, 'Hey, you're getting older we know you want this but we want to give you that.' And in my mind I was like, 'I'm not getting older, I don't want that, I don't want that,' and they just wanted to move in a new direction."
On July 14, 2004, Shaq -- then 32 years old -- was traded to the Miami Heat for a package of Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler and a future first-round pick.
"And see, the good thing about Dr. Buss, you know Kobe said it earlier, Dr. Buss will tell you to your face. Dr. Buss called me and said, 'This is what we want to do and this is what we're going to do, if you don't accept we have to trade you,' and I always respected Dr. Buss for that. I have no problems, no quarrels with his family because that's how you do business."
"I mean it kind of is what it is, the organization wanted to go in a different direction," Bryant said of O'Neal being traded. "I think philosophically, can you imagine how many years would Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain would be playing with each other with Wilt in his prime and Michael wanting to come up -- how long is that going to last before Michael says, 'You know what, it's time for me to show what I can do.'"
Before Bryant came on the show, an audio clip of Shaq requesting to be traded was played.
"You just played the clip where I said I wanted to be traded -- I definitely did not want to leave L.A.," Shaq said later on in the podcast. "But you know, that's how you gotta talk when you're in business, especially when you think you're in control. I definitely did not want to leave L.A. You know, a lot of stuff is said in the moment."
3. Kobe and Shaq think today's NBA players are a bunch of softies
Bryant and O'Neal don't seem to have much respect for today's NBA players.
"It's a different generation," Bryant said when asked by O'Neal if there are any current players that remind him of himself. "I grew up playing against Michael [Jordan], [Gary Payton] and all these stone-cold assassins, John Stockton, and all these guys, so I had that mentality. You don't really see that mentality around the league nowadays. Everybody's buddy-buddy.
"And laughing and joking," Shaq added.
Bryant was then asked by Jenners if he agrees with O'Neal that the NBA is "much softer" today.
"100 percent," Bryant answered. "I've said that before, too. When we play in the Olympics, they're more physical than in the NBA. The NBA used to be the toughest, strongest league in the world and now it's not that."
4. Phil Jackson was "fair" to both players
There were always rumors that the legendary Lakers coach played favorites. For a time, Shaq was the one that got preferential treatment, which was brought up during the podcast. At other times, Kobe was given more leeway, particularly during the 2004 season. But according to both Bryant and O'Neal, their coach was fair.
"He was really fair," O'Neal said. "He only got fed up one time and he came in and said, 'Both of ya'll need to cut it out.' And that's the only thing he said."
So who did Jackson take his frustration out on?
"Robert Horry was the whipping boy," O'Neal said. "Robert Horry used to always come in and say, 'I ain't gonna be your damn whipping boy.'"
"He used to pick on Robert all the time," Bryant added.
5. Kobe and Shaq don't actually hate each other
This is the clear takeaway from the jovial conversation between the two former teammates. Shaq introduced Bryant on the podcast as "the greatest Laker ever." He also said always introduces himself to Bryant's kids as "Uncle Shaq."
"I tell y'all all the time, it's like a locker room disagreement, it's not a real-life thing," O'Neal said.
"That shows how different we are," Bryant said. "He keeps telling people, 'Listen, it wasn't like that, it wasn't like that,' and my response is, 'Fuck 'em, I don't care what they they think.' And that's how we drove each other."
During the 2009 All-Star Game, Bryant and O'Neal publicly reconciled for the first time since their initial feud. The two played with each other, and for Phil Jackson, on the Western Conference team, and were shown laughing and hugging during the game. Bryant and O'Neal were named the game's co-MVPs and Bryant gave his trophy to O'Neal's son.
Since then the two have taken minor shots at each other, but the relationship has clearly evolved.
"When you say it at the time, you actually mean it," Bryant added during the podcast about all the previous negative back and forth. "And then when you get older, you have more perspective, you're like, 'Holy shit, I was an idiot as a kid.' To me, the most important thing is you keep your mouth shut. There's no need to go to the press. You keep it internal.
"We have our arguments and our disagreements. But I think having our debates within the press was something I wished would been avoided."
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