Shaq vs. Kobe: It was the defining intra-squad beef of its generation. Perhaps of all time. For Lakers fans, the beef was the only thing keeping the Shaq–Kobe–Phil Jackson Lakers from reaching the misty, jewelry-laden peaks of the MJ-Pippen Bulls. For non-Lakers fans, it was pure schadenfreude — the only potential weakness for a team that was built to destroy all comers. And now it’s over. We think. Or at least that’s what they want us to think. Kobe recently appeared on Shaq’s Big Podcast With Shaq to finally, once and for all, like grown-up adults looking to maximize their post-career earning potentials by at least appearing to be cool with each other, bury the nicked and bloody hatchet.
In memory of one of the greatest NBA beefs ever, here’s an annotated and condensed transcript of Shaq and Kobe’s conversation.
May the beef rest in peace.
Shaq: Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest Laker of all time — Kobe Bryant!1
In his 2011 autobiography Shaq Uncut: My Story, O’Neal accuses Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, six-time league MVP and all-time career scoring leader, of being an absentee mentor.
Said the Diesel: “Kareem was never around. And, whenever I did see him, he usually ignored me. The disappointing thing to me was, being in L.A. all those years and trying to fill those shoes, I would have liked to have a conversation with him …
“He’d say hello, but I was looking for, ‘Hey, do this’ or ‘Watch out for that.’ He knew everyone was comparing me to him. He knew better than anyone what I was up against, but he gave me nothing.”
Kobe: Haha! What’s up, my man? How you feeling?
Shaq: Listen, I think right now is time to clear the air. Because I’ve said many times that we were the most enigmatic, controversial, most talked about, dominant one-two punch. I just want people to know — I don’t hate you, I know you don’t hate me. I called it today a “work beef” is what we had. I was young, you was young. But then as I look at it — we won three out of four, so I don’t really think a lot was done wrong.
We had a lot of disagreements. We had a lot of arguments. But I think it fueled us. I was thinking at the end of the day, that’s why Phil Jackson never really jumped in2 because he knew that you say something about me, I get pissed off. I say something off, you get pissed off. And again it works. I know we said a lot of crazy stuff, but I had fun doing it.3
In his 2004 book The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul, Phil Jackson wrote about the difficulties inherent in managing two dominant stars with polar-opposite personalities. Jackson mostly sided with O’Neal in the clash, apparently agitating for a Bryant trade in early 2004. “I won’t coach this team next year if he is still here,” Jackson told Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. “He won’t listen to anyone. I’ve had it with this kid.”
While in Russia in 2012, Robert Horry said the following, which is translated from Russian: “I think Phil Jackson started that feud. It happened many times that after team practice he would say, ‘Kobe said this about Shaq, and Shaq said that about Kobe’ … We couldn’t believe how could that happen, because just the day before we saw them together, jumping on one another. Phil liked it when there was conflict of some sort.”
After Kobe’s Lakers lost the 2008 Finals to the Celtics in six games, Shaq unleashed a now infamous freestyle that begins with the line “Check it, you know how I be / Last week Kobe couldn’t do without me,” continues with a mild dis of Kareem (“That’s like Kareem saying to himself he’s better than me”), and culminates in the now legendary scatological line “Kobe, tell me how my ass taste.”
According to Lakers VP of PR John Black, Shaq also once threatened to murder Kobe.
Meanwhile, Kobe’s comments about Shaq, usually focused on what he felt was O’Neal’s lack of dedication to fitness: “It used to drive me crazy that he was so lazy,” Bryant told The New Yorker. “You got to have the responsibility of working every single day. You can’t skate through shit.”
Shaq: Did your wife have a typo last night or is your nickname really “Bay-boo”?4
Shaq’s comment is in reference to this Instagram post.
Kobe: My kids call me “The Tickle Monster.” I got all kinds of nicknames.
John Kincade (Shaq’s cohost): Kobe, if you’re Bay-boo now, you know that maybe LeBron is going to be whispering that in your ear …
Kobe: I do not care what they whisper. Bay-boo will still drop 60 on you.5
No NBA player has scored 60 or more in a game after age 37.
Shaq: Kobe, you passed the great Michael Jordan last year [on career points]. What’s next for you? Is this your last year? You’ve got five rings. What’s next for you, bro?
Kobe: I’m training and getting ready for the season. I’m really excited about it.6
Projected 2015-16 Lakers starting five:
C – Roy Hibbert
F – Brandon Bass
F – Nick Young
G – Kobe Bryant
G – D’Angelo Russell
Head Coach: Byron Scott
Shaq: Damn, you old.
Kobe: I’m closer to the end. I mean, 20 years! That’s nuts. I couldn’t imagine playing for 20 years back in the day. I’m really excited for this year.
Shaq: Me and Kobe, we came in together. We were in Utah. Utah used to kill us all the time. Only one guy wanted to take the shot. I didn’t want to take the shot. This guy took three major shots. He shot air balls.7 I knew then, you know what, this guy’s not afraid.
Here are said air balls.
Kobe: You know what else? In ’99, two things happened. I think Shaq realized, this kid is really competitive, and he’s a little crazy. Then I realized that I probably had a couple of screws loose because we got in a fistfight and I actually was willing to get into a fistfight with this man.8 I went home and I was like, dude, I’ve got to be either the dumbest or the most courageous kid on the face of the earth.
In his book The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It, Roland Lazenby writes that Shaq slapped Kobe during practice.
Shaq: That just showed me that this kid ain’t gonna back down. Kobe saw me punk everybody in the league!9 I knew then that, down by one, and I kick it out, he’s gonna shoot it and he’s gonna make it.
Kobe: It was one of two things. Either he was going to beat the shit out of me or I was going to get it done. I was comfortable either way.
Kincaid: Is there anything, Shaq, that you would like to take back that you ever said in the give-and-take over the years?
Shaq: A lot of things. Like, you just played the clip where I said I wanted to be traded.10 I definitely didn’t want to leave L.A. But you know, that’s how you got to talk when you’re in business, especially when you think you’re in control. A lot of stuff was said in the heat of the moment. I guarantee I don’t remember a lot of stuff that I said. I’ve changed my thought process. You know what? We won three out of four. What the hell are y’all talking about? This is not even really a story. Don’t forget we got the NBA record 15-1.11 We should’ve been the one to go 16-0, but your man Iverson hit us for 55.12 So you tell me now two guys who have beef is going to lead a team to 15-1 and the championship? That’s never been heard of. And I guarantee that record won’t be broken for the next 20 years. Guaranteed.
Shaq actually asked for a trade at least twice, both times because of Bryant. During the 2000-01 season, after a win over the Suns in which Kobe scored 38 to O’Neal’s 18, Shaq asked Kupchak for a change of scenery.
“You have to take the conversation for what the moment was,” Kupchak told the L.A. Times at the time. “Never for a second did I consider it. This is something that will be worked out. There haven’t been and there will be no discussions about trading anyone. Period.”
Then, in 2004, after Detroit dispatched L.A. in the NBA Finals, Shaq said, “The direction they’re going in, if they’re going to continue to go in the same direction, I don’t want to be a part of this. This team, it ain’t about me. It ain’t about Phil. It’s supposed to be about team.”
In the regular season, they put up a net rating of plus-3.59. When the playoffs rolled around, their net rating shot up to plus-13.7.
It was 48 points.
This post was edited and condensed after publication.