HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The thaw began a while ago, with each side admitting to past wrongs and their own complicity in one of the coldest wars in the history of sports.
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant feuded for years, first as teammates in Los Angeles with the Lakers, and later after they had parted ways. They won titles, three in a row, in spite of their very real beef that always seemed destined to derail one of the greatest 1-2 punches basketball had ever seen.
But now, with Shaq retired and settled in comfortably as a member of the Emmy Award-winning Inside The NBA on TNT and headed for the Hall of Fame, and Kobe in the twilight of his future Hall of Fame career, the good vibrations appear to be rolling between the two. When word surfaced last week that Shaq had Kobe on his “The Big Podcast” (available today) and the former dynamic duo had cleared the air, it became obvious that the longstanding battle between the two was officially over.
Shaq’s opening lines, per a report from Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times, said it all:
“I just want people to know that I don’t hate you, I know you don’t hate me. I call it today a ‘work beef,’ is what we had,” said O’Neal, who retired after the 2010-11 season. “I was young, you was young. But then as I look at it, we won three [championships] out of four so I don’t really think a lot was done wrong. So I just wanted to clear the air and let everybody know that, no, I don’t hate you. We had a lot of disagreements, we had a lot of arguments. But I think it fueled us both.”
With Shaq Week invading NBA TV this week, the unveiling of the full podcast sheds even more light on the recovery process for these former teammates and NBA titans. We’ve heard plenty of stories and theories from other folks who were there, involved and observing the reality show that was the Shaq-Kobe Lakers. This is the first time we’ve had the two stars of the show discuss it together.
Some 11 years after their nasty public break up, hearing both men reflect on their tumultuous time together is revealing. More from the Times:
Bryant, 37, recalled the time when he and O’Neal almost came to blows in 1999.
Bryant was 21 at the time, but he wasn’t going to back down to the 7-foot-1, 330-pound O’Neal.
“In ’99, I think Shaq realized that this kid is really competitive and he’s a little crazy,” said Bryant, who is heading into what could be his final NBA season. “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.'”
O’Neal viewed it then as an affront to his authority as the team leader, but these days he sees it differently.
“That just showed me, ‘You know what, this kid ain’t going to back down to nobody,'” O’Neal said. “Kobe seen me punk everybody in the league. So when this kid would stand up every day [to me], I’m like, ‘This kid ain’t going to back down.’ I knew then, if I’m down by one and I kick it out to someone, he’s going to shoot it and he’s going to make it.”
Both Bryant and O’Neal laughed.
“He was either going to beat the . . . out of me or I was going to get it done,” Bryant said. “I was comfortable with either one.”
Clearly, time heals all wounds, even in the most bitter of disputes. And to their credit, these guys didn’t wait until they were ancient to do this. All of us who watched them in their primes, together and apart, know what might have been if they could have co-existed without all of the drama and certainly a little longer.