Kobe Bryant was denied the credit he deserved while playing with Shaquille O’Neal. Any time the discussion of Kobe’s place in history would come up related to his three rings I was told “Kobe had Shaq.” How many times did I hear “Shaq carried Kobe?” My favorite was “Kobe will never win it all without Shaquille.” I was offended by these outlandish takes. I told you guys then Kobe would succeed, and now I’m here to remind you. When the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals, I heard a broadcaster say a line that really left an impression on me. He said, “four time champion Kobe Bryant.” What did I just hear? Did he win four titles tonight? I don’t remember him getting credit for the first three. His fourth title, and first without O’Neal validated Kobe out of a shadow he should not have had to fight.
Peoples fixation on “Kobe HAVING Shaq” comes from a few places. Kobe had so much swagger out of the gates, having proved zero, it rubbed people the wrong way and made him an awesome villan. Michael Jordan fans resented Kobe for talking like Michael, chewing his gum like MJ, and using his moves. Those same Jordan lovers feared Kobe. Phil Jackson had made it clear Kobe was Michael’s equal in skill and killer will. The last and most obvious reason is Shaq was an amazing basketball player. O’Neal is one of the 10 greatest players of all time. During the Lakers three peat in the early 2000’s, he was the most dominant and best player on the planet. Shaq was the ultimate mismatch of the day. He was as close to an automatic bucket or dunk as you can get. What you may not remember is Bryant was the NBA’s most skilled player, and its second best overall.
The Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000’s were a unique dynasty. They were a top heavy team who had the world’s two best ball players. When you get into comparison talk don’t give me that “Batman and Robin” garbage when you talk about Shaq and Kobe. Robin had very little game. Kobe Bryant during his physical prime was not like a little pet lending a helping hand. Here are some perspective points to Kobe’s level while playing with Shaquille:
Over the three championship seasons Kobe averaged 25.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. He attained these numbers having to contain himself and cater to O’Neal.
In 2002 the Lakers were an all time best 15-1 in the post season. Bryant averaged 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists.
He was on the ALL-NBA Team and the All-Defensive Team each year.
In game four of the 2000 NBA Finals after Shaq fouled out in overtime, a 21-year-old Kobe told his teammate “I got you.” Bryant hit all five of his shots in the extra session leading the Lakers to victory.
In February of 2003 Kobe scored over 40 points in nine consecutive games. He dropped 50 plus in two of them and the Lakers went seven and two over that stretch.
Shaq set the tone and was the unquestioned hammer. Kobe was the wicked talent and the closer. He handled the ball in the last five minutes of games play making for himself and others. Kobe also was protecting O’Neal at the end of contests because he hit 31 percent more of his free throws.
Kobe was an impatient young man who wanted to rule pro basketball. Shaq was the alpha dog and big brother figure in the locker room. Kobe thought he worked harder than O’Neal, while Shaq thought Bryant was a hot dog. Soap opera or not, when the lights came on Shaq and Kobe performed and played brilliantly together. They did not have the connectivity of a Stockton to Malone or Magic to Worthy. They didn’t have the cool similar styles that MJ and Pippen or LeBron and Wade had. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won big and did it with opposing game styles and personalities. These two players are both legends of the game. Why hasn’t anyone ever said, “Shaq had Kobe?”
After escaping the Boston Celtics in game seven of the 2010 NBA Finals a reporter asked Kobe…”I know for you this is a team accomplishment first, but what does this fifth world title mean for you individually?” With zero hesitation Bryant said, “one more than Shaq.”
Jay C. Brandriet