In eight seasons together, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won three NBA titles and made four trips to the Finals. As successful as the Lakers were, there were some growing chemistry issues with the two taking barbs at each other off the court.
Their time as teammates came to an end after the 2003-04 season which saw the Lakers losing to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. The team traded O’Neal away to the Miami Heat while re-signing Bryant to a new deal with the two seemingly unwilling to be teammates. Bryant discussed how important it was for him to win without Shaq and the possibility of him leaving the Lakers as told by Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher:
I wasn’t going to play with Shaq anymore after that. That just wasn’t going to happen. Things he had said, criticism from the media in saying I can’t win without him. Look, I put that individual s–t aside to win championships and now I’m getting criticized for it. Now I’m going to show you f–ks what I can do on my own. So that challenge, I was going to answer that challenge no matter what—whether I was going to stay in L.A. or go somewhere else, I was going to answer that challenge.”
O’Neal, meanwhile, wished he remained a Laker as well as hoping the team had a better chance to play with Karl Malone and Gary Payton earlier in their careers:
If I had one wish, I wish we could have gotten those guys a couple years earlier. Karl was older. GP was older. Wish we could have gotten them towards the end of their prime. And you know, I think we would have won that series. And then, if Karl doesn’t get hurt, I’d probably still be a Laker to this day.
Bryant and O’Neal would each go on and find success after the breakup. The Lakers won NBA championships in 2009 and 2010 with Bryant while O’Neal earned one as a member of the Miami Heat in 2006.
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