Last month the Lakers announced the dates they plan to retire the jerseys of Jammal Wilkes and Shaquille O’Neal and when they will dedicate a statue outside of Staples Center to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I started thinking about the Shaq ceremony and what it’s going to be like. For starters, Shaq and the Lakers didn’t really part on the friendliest of terms. The jersey retirement ceremony will serve as an opportunity for Shaq and Lakers fans to repair all of the burned bridges since his trade to Miami back in 2004.
It got me wondering if anyone would hold it against Kobe if he decided to stay in the locker room with his teammates instead of attending the ceremony. Let me first state that I fully expect Kobe to be out there in his Lakers warm-up with Phil Jackson, Rick Fox, and Robert Horry to honor his former teammate. It would be great to see Kobe and Shaq exchange a genuine hug. Besides, there would be way too much backlash if he didn’t. However he does have a pretty good excuse if he decided to sit it out. A game against the Mavericks in April could turn out to be very important in the fight for home-court advantage in the playoffs. He gets paid to win basketball games, not to participate in pregame and halftime ceremonies.
One thing we can be sure of is that it will be a lot less awkward than when they shared the MVP during the 2009 All-Star Game. Knowing Shaq, he’d probably relish the opportunity to speak to 20,000 Lakers fans and publicly apologize to Kobe. And he has a lot to apologize for.
**I’m not pretending that Kobe doesn’t have anything to apologize for, but let’s not pretend both sides are to blame equally.
You could make a strong case that the worst thing Shaq did to Kobe was allow him take the blame for the breaking up of their relationship. The reality was that Shaq wanted a 5-year, $100 million contract from the Lakers and Dr. Buss wasn’t willing to give him one. So Shaq not only demanded a trade, but he demanded a trade to a team that would give it to him. And one more thing: it had to be in a warm-weather city. Here’s what Tim Brown of the Los Angeles Times (now of Yahoo!) wrote three days after the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals:
Through his agent, Perry Rogers, O’Neal has demanded the Lakers trade him, a request team management sources say will be granted, if possible. O’Neal, in a telephone interview, said he had lost faith in the franchise and its general manager, Mitch Kupchak. “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,” O’Neal said. “This team, it ain’t about me. It ain’t about Phil. It’s supposed to be about team.””
At the time, Kobe was also entering free agency. His flirtation with both the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers was real. So for O’Neal to insinuate in the following years that Kobe was the reason why he was traded was not only wrong, but totally unfair. The only thing Kobe is guilty of is in not trying harder to keep Shaq. But it’s easy to see why Bryant wasn’t necessarily in a hurry to do that. But that didn’t stop the media from continuing the narrative that it was Kobe’s fault that Phil Jackson was fired and Shaq was traded, even if he continuously denied it.
In the post-Shaq years, Kobe did a great job of not responding to Shaq’s repeated jabs. He learned his lesson during their time together that responding only gave the story legs and kept it going. Like the time that Shaq referred to Penny Hardaway as Fredo Corleone, Kobe as Sonny and Dwyane Wade as Michael and “the best guard he’d ever played with.”
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