National Basketball Association
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal once again proved you’re never too old to beef
National Basketball Association

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal once again proved you’re never too old to beef

Published Sep. 17, 2019 12:28 p.m. ET

5,553 days have passed since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal last stepped onto a basketball floor as teammates. Which, as if you didn’t already know, is a heck of a long time.

Yet the sports world’s most entertaining love-hate, on-off fraternal beef returned this week. Time heals all wounds, supposedly, but the normal rules don’t apply to this pair of Los Angeles Lakers greats who enjoy nothing more than to poke at each other and then (kinda) hug it out afterwards.

Until next time.

Whenever they fan the flames, though, it never seems to get old. No one really takes sides in the Kobe v. Shaq superfight — you just sit back and enjoy the show. Shaq is still as funny as ever and very much in the public spotlight as part of the NBA on TNT panel. Bryant stopped playing three years ago but has done a couple of minor things like winning an Oscar and making hundreds of millions from various investments.

They’re doing just fine. They don’t need to give us as much entertaining fodder as they do. So why bother with the beef-that-may-or-not-really-be-a-beef?

Do you really need to ask? Because they are as fiercely competitive as during their playing days and it reminds them of the time they were both at their peak.

The latest bout of verbal sparring began when Bryant was interviewed on stage by Patrick Bet-David at the PHP Agency Convention in Las Vegas. When asked what would have happened in O’Neal had matched his work ethic (spoiler alert: no one matches Kobe’s work ethic), Bryant had plenty to say.

“He'd be the greatest of all time, for sure,” Bryant said. “He'd be the first to tell you that. This guy was a force like I have never seen. It was crazy. A guy at that size, generally guys at that size are a little timid and they don't want to be tall, they don't want to be big.

“Man, this dude was, he did not care. He was mean. He was nasty. He was competitive. He was vindictive. He was ... yeah, I wish he was in the gym. I would have had (expletive) 12 rings.”

When an Instagram user posted the video, O'Neal could not hold himself back, apparently irked especially by the insinuation that he had cost Bryant extra hardware.

“U woulda had twelve if you passed the ball more especially in the finals against the pistons #facts,” O'Neal wrote, before alluding to his statue outside Staples Center.

“You don't get statues by not working hard,” he added.

Then Bryant attempted to clear things up and said he had nothing but love for O’Neal. Then Shaq took a jab at new Lakers signing Dwight Howard. Then they laughed the whole thing off.

And we all got our fix of Shaq-Kobe drama for a while, and the sports world could return to normal again.

If you think this latest public sparring between the pair is fun, man, you would have loved the 2003-04 season. Los Angeles sports writers and NBA scribes around the country found themselves presented with an absolute treasure trove of reportable drama. They simply couldn’t get enough of it, and neither could the audience.

Head coach Phil Jackson spent much of the year playing referee-slash-mediator and despite other luminaries such as future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton and four-time NBA champ Horace Grant on the team, it was the Shaq and Kobe show. Every. Single. Night.

There was enough material during the campaign that Jackson wrote a book about it, “The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul.”

“The newspapers, needless to say, have treated the Kobe-Shaq feud as if it were the second coming of Cain versus Abel,” wrote Jackson. “IT’S THE RETURN OF STAR WARS was the headline in the Times. The story was destined to last for days and days, every basketball reporter in the city, maybe the nation, on a scavenger hunt for the next insult or inuendo to filter through the grapevine. There was only so much the Lakers could do to try to tame the beast.”

Remember, this was two of the most famous athletes on the planet, men intelligent and literary enough to spin the most cutting jibes, both willing to take part in the fray, in the entertainment capital of the world, working in a platform where the media had access to them at least once a day.

The snarky remarks would hurtle back and forth throughout the year, but the Lakers kept on winning — right up until they didn’t. The Pistons series O’Neal referenced was where it fell apart, losing 4-1 in the Finals to a rugged, defense-minded opponent.

At the end of it, Bryant — who was closer to Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss — got his way.

“Kobe was saying ‘I just can’t take this anymore,’” FOX’s Skip Bayless said on Undisputed. “Even this town wasn’t big enough for the both of them.”

O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat and won another title with Dwyane Wade two years later. Bryant would have to wait until 2009 and then 2010 to take his career tally to five.

Indeed, a lot has happened in sports since Mamba and Diesel stopped playing together. When they split, rising tennis star Coco Gauff was three months old. LeBron James was only one season into his career. Tom Brady was already winning Super Bowls, but didn’t yet need the TB12 Diet to keep him spry. Mike Tyson was still fighting.

And there’s every chance they’ll keep at it until the heat death of the universe. This is who they are. This is who they’ve always been.

Thankfully for everyone other than maybe Dwight Howard, on and on it goes, like two brothers incapable of getting along, but inextricably linked by basketball history.


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