In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal had a few comments regarding Dwight Howard (doesn’t he always?) and the Houston Rockets:
“They could be dangerous, but he’s (Howard) in his what, ninth or 10th year? He’s been the same all those 10 years, so can he get better while working with (Rockets aide and Hall of Fame big man) Hakeem (Olajuwon)? Is that going to take him to the next level? I’m not sure. We’ll see, but I haven’t seen it. … (But) if he’s playing great ball and (James) Harden is playing great ball and everyone else is following them, they could be a dangerous team. But I don’t see them winning it right away.”
Then, he furthered his analysis and commented a bit on what it’s like to play alongside his former teammate, Kobe Bryant:
“Everybody can’t handle that pressure (with the Lakers). You can’t do it by yourself. You’re playing with the Black Mamba (Kobe Bryant), and it don’t get no easier than that. You’re either going to be with the Black Mamba and it’s going to be easier than trying to do it by yourself, or you’re going to be with LeBron, or with Durant — the third choice — or with Derrick Rose, the fourth choice. You were with the No. 1 guy — it don’t get no easier than that. … I don’t know Dwight personally, but a lot of people can’t handle that pressure.”
Now, Shaq and Kobe have had a well documented feud throughout the years, but the two have made amends and have what Kobe Bryant recently called a “really, really good relationship now.” I truly believe there is no longer any bad blood between the two as Bryant is usually as brutally honest as they get, especially when it comes to Shaq.
Obviously, Shaq has similar sentiments and has repeatedly praised his former teammate in the media — doing so once again here.
What’s interesting, however, is that O’Neal would call it “easy” to play with Bryant. Certainly, the big fella has been known to make a few outrageous claims in the past, but I actually believe him here.
There’s no doubt that the two had friction off the court and may have had differences on the court as well, but there’s no argument that Shaq had his best seasons in a Lakers uniform while playing alongside Kobe Bryant.
It may be hard to believe but with some convincing from Phil Jackson, when it came down to winning, Kobe sacrificed his game and deferred to the best player on the team at the time — which was Shaq. It resulted in three straight championships.
Many would argue that with two dominant forces such as Shaq and Kobe on the same team together, they could have, would have, and should have won more titles had it been so easy to play with one another.
This is possibly true, but each player had other agendas following the three-peat. Shaq wanted a max contract and reportedly minority ownership of the Lakers despite a decline in his production, and Kobe wanted to step out of Shaq’s gigantic shadow and prove he could win on his own.
However, when winning championships was the number one priority on both players’ minds, they made just that — winning — look easy. They knew exactly how to complement each other and form one of the most dynamic duos in the history of basketball. They were unstoppable at one point.
As far as Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant and their agendas last season? I don’t know about Dwight’s, but in 17th season of Kobe Bryant’s career, it seemed that the only thing on his mind last season was winning, and his high level of play certainly showed that he came ready to make a serious run at it.
In that sense, I can completely see Shaq’s angle on Kobe. He may not be the easiest guy to play with on some levels, but when it comes to winning, it’s something that runs through Kobe Bryant’s blood and he finds a way to get it done.
He wants to win, he plays to win, and most importantly, he knows how to win.
When you’re a player who’s trying to win for the first time, it doesn’t get much easier than learning from someone who has done it five times.
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