Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal put together one of the greatest runs in NBA history when they were teammates with the Los Angeles Lakers. They propelled the team to four NBA Finals and winning three championships before going their separate ways.
That stretch is one of the best of any duo to ever suit up in the NBA, rivaling pairs like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen or Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Of course, there is ultimately no way to empirically determine which one of those tandems was the most gifted or ‘best.’
But while Bryant may view Jordan like a “brother,” his competitive nature still leaves him wishing there was a way for he and O’Neal to suit up against those pairings, even if he understands it will never happen, via TNT:
“I would love to be able to take our ’01 team and match up with the ’91 Bulls team, because I know that’s when Michael feels like that’s when he was at his best, or the ’89 Lakers before Magic got hurt. Roll the ball out and we can play and see what happens. But unfortunately, we can’t. So, to be able to sit here and say we were the best or we were better, what difference does that make? You ask us, of course we’re the best. You ask Michael and Scottie, of course they’re the bast. You ask Magic and Cap, of course they’re the best.”
O’Neal explained why he still feels like he and Bryant were the best:
“What makes us the best is no other duo had as many outside controversies as you and I had. That’s why I always say we were the most enigmatic, nobody could figure us out, most controversial, but when it comes time to step on the court, most dominant one-two punch, little-big ever created in the game.”
Bryant’s and O’Neal’s years together certainly rivals any eight-year stretch from either Jordan and Pippen or Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, or any other pairing in NBA history. And while O’Neal is correct to note there was dysfunction, he’s also right that it almost never mattered when he and Bryant were on the floor.
Still, it’s impossible to account for the changes in the way the game was played and to factor in the duos’ other teammates when having debates like this, which is why they’ll never end.