What’s Beef? Shaq & Kobe Open Up About Tensions, Putting Rumors To Rest (Audio)

From 1996 through 2004, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were heralded Los Angeles Lakers teammates. As such, they won three NBA championships in the purple and gold. However, both dominant personalities, both masters of their craft, a team tug-of-war began, from the locker-room to the media, and the (potential Hall Of Fame) annals of history.

But was it all real? Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant got together more than a decade later, for an intimate conversation that Heads can listen in on.

“It’s time to clear the air,” O’Neal led on his “The Big Podcast With Shaq” platform, with Bryant as the featured guest. “I’ve said many times that we were the most enigmatic, controversial, most talked-about, dominant one-two punch [in sports]. I just want people to know that I don’t hate you, I know you don’t hate me.” The 7’1″ retired Center called the public tensions “work beef.” Even though the pair admitted they nearly came to blows early on, in 1999, it never happened—like so many had speculated.

Although the pair famously used the media at the boiling points in their disputes (which stemmed beyond Shaq’s 2004 trade to the Miami Heat), it was the man-to-man confrontations that Kobe says he admired about the dynamic. “When you get things out, right in front of each other [and] you say what you’re thinking, you have those disagreements, you agree to disagree, you move on [and] all of the sudden, the integrity of the team is preserved.” Those teams, particularly the 2000 team that beat the Indiana Pacers four games to two, and the 2001 team that beat the Philadelphia 76ers four games to one, are considered some of the best of the last 15 years. The pair agreed that the 2000-2001 team was “lights out,” the best among their overlapping seasons. In both aforementioned ‘chips, O’Neal was crowned the MVP (as he would also be in the 2003 sweep of the New Jersey Nets). In 2003-2004, the season before the trade, it was where those tensions outgrew the locker-room, and by public perception, broke up a dynasty.


Shaq, who made a career out of matching his on-court excellence with off-court pageantry, admitted his lowest points. “They’ll say, ‘I read an article where you said you was going to kill him.’ Yeah, I did say that, but I didn’t mean it,” the basketball player-turned-actor-turned-rapper conceded. Kobe addressed those words, 11 years later. “I was like, ‘All right, then come on then.'” He remembers a level of sincerity, given the pair’s frustrations, claiming witnesses would have thought, “‘Okay, Shaq is going to kill this fucking kid and this kid is crazier than bat shit.'” Kobe admits that with time, he has gained a wisdom since his late teens and early twenties. “When you say [things] at the time, you actually mean [them] and then when you get older you have more perspective and you’re like ‘holy shit, I was an idiot when I was a kid.'” He added, “I think having our debates within the press was something I wish would’ve been avoided.”

According to O’Neal—who would win a fourth championship in Miami—it was business that crumbled the Point Guard and Center battery. The Lakers ownership, namely Dr. Jerry Buss, was concerned of Shaq’s age, and valued the player differently than the onetime Louisiana State University standout valued himself. “Dr. Buss called me and said, ‘This is what we want to do and this is how we’re going to do it. If you don’t accept it, we’re going to have to trade you.'” Shaq admitted that he feels no animosity towards the Buss Family or the Lakers today. He would play seven additional seasons, as a league journeyman—the major of those seasons as an all-star. He simply deduced he and Kobe as “two alpha males,” as the team decided to go “in a new direction.” That new direction afforded Kobe two more championships of his own, famously (and openly, to the press) edging out Shaq’s four. Kobe says he had to live beyond Shaq’s massive shadow, to prove his own abilities, and control a team he previously shared with one of the NBA’s household superstars.

Of the alleged fights, the now 37 year-old Kobe reflects on his fearless attitude, stepping to Shaq a reported few times, although it appears the pair seemingly never traded punches. Of the mind set in his youth, the then #8 said, “It was one of two things. Either he was either going to beat the shit out of me or I was going to get it done. I was comfortable with either one.”

While the pair did not openly address the famed “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes” freestyle line Shaq made famous across sports and meme culture in the late 2000s, there was teasing. The baritone Center (now a dominant force in social media) called out his former teammate of sever technical fouls online.

Oh yeah… and while Kobe’s last playing chapter remains unwritten, both 1990s alums compared the NBA players and style of today with their era, calling the present “soft.”

How would the NBA storybooks be different if Shaquille O’Neal was never traded out of L.A.? Compared to Jay Z and Dame Dash, another dynamic duo stripped apart by a mix of business and ego, do you draw any parallels?

Visit Shaq’s The Big Podcast at Podcast One for past episodes.

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