Shaq's jersey joins the Lakers greats among the rafters at Staples Center.
By JOE McDONNELLFS West
LOS ANGELES — The
Lakers retired the No. 34 jersey worn by the great center Shaquille O’Neal during his eight-year tenure tonight at Staples Center on Tuesday.
And rightfully so.
Lakers great Ervin 'Magic' Johnson says O’Neal deserves to have his jersey retired as much as any of the others already hanging in the rafters.
“Shaq has been one of the most dominant Lakers we’ve ever had,” Johnson said on Monday at the Dodgers home opener. “He and Wilt Chamberlain were centers with strength, agility and size. They couldn’t be stopped. What Shaq did as a Laker, we hadn’t seen done probably since Wilt (played).
“When Dr. Buss and Jerry West brought him here, paired him with Kobe and brought in Phil (Jackson), we won three in a row and just dominated the league. Shaq dominated the game with his abilities, and he dominated the city with his big personality.
“I’m happy Shaq was able to wear the purple and gold, and represent this city and win championships. His jersey should go up, and I know he’s excited by it.”
Fans also got to see another retirement of sorts: a public end to the Shaq-Kobe Bryant feud.
O’Neal and Bryant both came to the Lakers in 1996 — Shaq as a free agent and Kobe as part of a draft-day trade with Charlotte. Beginning in 2000, the duo won three straight titles and appeared in four NBA Finals together, but the daily soap opera that starred the two was the real point of interest among Laker insiders.
Two of the greatest players in Laker history just didn’t like each other. They were able to co-exist and thrive for eight years and there were times when their relationship appeared harmonious.
They were unstoppable on the court and mortal enemies off it.
Johnson lamented the fact that the two couldn’t get past their differences.
“It probably cost us at least two or three more championships,” said Johnson, shaking his head. "If they could have played together, we’d definitely have many more banners up on the wall. Sometimes, though, you just have to move on.”
In private, Shaq would refer to Kobe using profane nicknames and feeling his younger teammate was anything but a true teammate. He always felt Kobe was selfish and only cared about the numbers he could roll out each game, while Bryant bad-mouthed O’Neal’s supposed lack of conditioning and work ethic. Laker players would take sides — mostly with Shaq — and Bryant just sat back seething and getting angrier and more resentful.
Finally, in 2004, Bryant exploded publicly, calling Shaq a “fat-a**” and telling the late Dr. Jerry Buss that he wouldn’t play one more minute with O’Neal. Bryant was about to become a free agent, and according to several sources at the time, had told Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling to have a jersey made for him, because Kobe was leaving the Lakers to move across the hallway at Staples Center.
Buss decided to put his future in the hands of the younger, more athletic Bryant, and immediately traded O’Neal to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant.
One day later, a deliriously happy Bryant signed a seven-year $136.4-million deal to stay with the Lakers. But it was O’Neal who won the 2006 title with Miami sans Bryant -- Kobe then one-upped him by hoisting two more trophies in 2009 and 2010.
Now, the not-so-petty disagreements have reportedly been replaced by mutual respect, and Bryant says despite all the acrimonious times he’s happy for O’Neal and all he accomplished.
"Throughout his career he's always tried not to be sensitive," Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. "But hopefully he will kind of let himself go a little bit. The fans should give him what he deserves because he gave us phenomenal, phenomenal years. The thing that I respected about him was when he stepped on the court he was ferocious. That's the thing we both had in common. Between those lines, nothing could stop us.
"(The breakup) was inevitable," Kobe continued. "You can't expect Michael [Jordan] to play with Wilt [Chamberlain] for his entire career. That's just not going to work. I had too much talent and too much to showcase.”