In the same off-season that the Los Angeles Lakers signed the most dominant center in the NBA, Shaquille O’Neal, away from the Orlando Magic, they also traded center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for the draft rights to 17-year-old Kobe Bryant.
Fast forward 20 years and Bryant has just finished up a certain Hall of Fame career with five championship rings and is considered one of the greatest players of all-time. Meanwhile O’Neal, who won four championships himself, is set to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame of Sept. 9.
It’s well known that the relationship between Shaq and Kobe during their time together was contentious at times and one reason was Kobe being a pretty arrogant teenager in his early years.
In an NBA TV exclusive interview special called “Shaq: The Big Conversation”, O’Neal talked about his relationship with Bryant, and how at just 18-years-old Bryant called himself the Will Smith of the NBA:
“It began with a lot of patience…He told me one time he was going to be the Will Smith of the NBA. He told me that at 18 years old. I was like, ‘Ok, young fella.’ But I saw something in him.”
If Bryant’s goals was to be the Will Smith of the NBA, he exceeded that goal, being named an All-Star 18 times, winning an MVP award in 2008, two Finals MVP awards and ranking third all-time in scoring with 33,643 points.
In O’Neal’s eight seasons with the team he averaged 27.0 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He was named an All-Star seven times, while winning NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2000 and Finals MVP three times.
Most believe that the Lakers could have won even more championships had Shaq and Kobe been able to put their differences aside, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. Nonetheless both players proved their greatness throughout their outstanding careers.