Both sides may downplay it more often than not these days, but it’s no secret that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal weren’t the best of friends while they were teammates and especially after Shaq’s departure from the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s. However, they do have three NBA Championship rings to water down any saltiness in their relationship.
However, Bryant has opened up about his former teammate and the demise of the Lakers’ dynasty in a piece from Ben McGrath at The New Yorker (read the whole piece if you get the chance). In the piece, Kobe calls out O’Neal for his laziness, saying, “It used to drive me crazy that he was so lazy. You got to have the responsibility of working every single day. You can’t skate through (expletive).” Obviously Bryant has never been one to mince words and he didn’t in this instance at all.
It’s pretty widely known that Shaq never seemed fully committed to playing basketball. Don’t get me wrong, he was a force on the court, but he always seemed to have a bigger picture beyond basketball and the NBA in mind and like enjoying himself was always his first priority. It’s hard to fault a guy for feeling that way.
However, I have an issue with the word “lazy” that Bryant used to describe Shaq. If averaging 28.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.6 blocks per game on 57.5 percent shooting over their three championship seasons is “lazy,” then I don’t know a whole lot about the game of basketball. Throw in the fact that he averaged 29.9 points, 14.5 rebounds, three assists and 2.4 blocks per game on 55.2 percent shooting in those three playoffs and “lazy” seems even more far-fetched.
While those three titles are an enormous part of Kobe’s legacy, it can’t be forgotten that Shaq was the driving force behind those titles. Bryant was fantastic, but it was O’Neal that was that team’s bread-and-butter.
Bryant may have a point about O’Neal in the fact that he didn’t give his all every night, particularly following the team’s three-peat. However, “lazy” seems like the wrong word to use. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but even with someone with Shaq’s physical gifts can’t be lazy and produce at the level that he did in Los Angeles. Complacent, uncommitted, aloof, and plenty of other words could feasibly apply to Shaq in this situation; but I’m not buying “lazy” as the proper word to describe him.