Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant feud explained: Why did the two not get along and why did the Lakers trade Shaq?

The complete story behind Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant's feud. Why did they clash and why did the Lakers trade Shaq on July 14, 2004?

Oindrila Chowdhury
Written by Oindrila Chowdhury , Writer
Published on Jan 17, 2024 | 09:31 PM IST | 239.5K
Getty Images
Kobe-Shaq Rift: Exploring Lakers' decision to trade Shaquille O'Neal ( Getty Images )

During the early 2000s, the NBA experienced a truly memorable rivalry between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. This duo, who guided the Los Angeles Lakers to three back-to-back NBA championships from 2000 to 2002, unfortunately, saw their bond deteriorate both on and off the basketball court.

The cold war ultimately led to Shaq's departure from the Lakers in 2004 to the Miami Heat, while Bryant continued with the team.

Shaq vs. Kobe Saga: Timeline of the feud that was in the NBA spotlight

1996- 1997: 

In 1996, the Los Angeles Lakers shook up the NBA by acquiring the draft rights to high school prodigy Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets. This marked the first time an NBA team had drafted a guard straight from high school.

In the same year, the Lakers further bolstered their roster by signing the All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal.  

However, the duo's early years playing together from 1996 to 1999 were not without their challenges.

Bryant, only 18 at the time, exhibited an extraordinary level of confidence in his abilities and claimed he would lead the Lakers in scoring and become the best player in the NBA. O'Neal, in response to Bryant's flashy offensive moves, started calling him a "showboat." 

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The turning point came in a playoff game against the Utah Jazz when O'Neal fouled out with two minutes left in regulation. Lakers coach Del Harris designed the offense around the rookie Bryant, who, unfortunately, missed four crucial shots. Harris defended the decision, citing Bryant's one-on-one skills as the best choice. 

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This period marked the beginning of a sour relationship between two NBA titans, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

1997- 2000:

In 1997, the Los Angeles Lakers assigned Kobe Bryant to play in the NBA Summer League to enhance his skills as a team player and improve decision-making when facing double teams. 

Next, the team struggled post-All-Star break, losing seven of their first twelve games, and Bryant faced a challenging period of low shooting accuracy. Shaquille O'Neal, eager for immediate championship success, was impatient with Bryant's development. 

Consequently, Bryant's playing time decreased, and the Lakers were ultimately eliminated in the 1998 playoffs, swept 4-0 by the Jazz in the conference finals.

The 1998–99 NBA season for the Los Angeles Lakers was marked by a lockout, resulting in a shortened 50-game season. The team faced challenges, including the firing of coach Del Harris, interim coaching by Kurt Rambis, and a brief period with Dennis Rodman as a player. The season highlighted tensions between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, with disagreements over playing style and perceived selfishness. O'Neal expressed frustration with Bryant, pointing to him as a problem. 

Rumors of jealousy also emerged as Bryant's jerseys outsold O'Neal's. Despite attempts to mend the relationship, the tension persisted into the playoffs, where the Lakers were swept 4–0 by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round.

In the 1999 offseason, the Lakers signed Phil Jackson as head coach, with star players Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant influencing the decision. Jackson focused on O'Neal in the offense, leading to a successful 67–15 season and a 2000 NBA championship. 


The team faced challenges, notably a comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. Despite tension between O'Neal and Bryant, the coaching staff, using the triangle offense, helped reconcile their on-court dynamics, resulting in a championship win against the Indiana Pacers.

2000-2004:

In the 2001 season, despite internal conflicts between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers won the championship. O'Neal entered training camp out of shape, causing tension with Bryant, who had diligently improved over the offseason. 

O'Neal's trade request heightened the discord. However, a shift occurred with O'Neal taking responsibility for his fitness, and the return of injured player Derek Fisher boosted the team's defense. 

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The Lakers finished the regular season strongly with 56 wins. O'Neal's improved form and Bryant's unselfish play in the playoffs contributed to their success. They won the championship with a 15-1 postseason record, overcoming internal strife for another title.


The subsequent off-season following the Lakers' 2004 NBA Finals loss was marked by accusations and charges of rape against Kobe Bryant in Colorado. 

 

Despite the legal turmoil, the Lakers signed veteran free agents Karl Malone and Gary Payton, recruited by Shaquille O'Neal, making the team a title favorite. 

 

As the season approached, tensions between O'Neal and Bryant resurfaced. O'Neal criticized Bryant's playing style, urging him to focus on team ball, while Bryant defended his abilities and asserted his role. Bryant later publicly questioned O'Neal's leadership, physical condition, and commitment to the team.

 

The feud escalated, leading to a mediation session between O'Neal and Bryant facilitated by former teammate Brian Shaw. 

 

The Lakers started the 2003–04 season with a strong record but faced challenges. Contract negotiations with Jackson and O'Neal were suspended during the All-Star break, signaling tension within the team. 

Despite finishing as the second seed in the playoffs, the Lakers were defeated in the 2004 NBA Finals by the Detroit Pistons. O'Neal played passively, and the loss intensified the rift between O'Neal and Bryant. Coach Phil Jackson was not offered a new contract, and O'Neal demanded a trade, feeling the organization favored Bryant. O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat, and Bryant considered a move to the Los Angeles Clippers.


Kobe Bryant's re-signing and Shaquille O'Neal's Lakers’ departure

After Shaquille O'Neal was traded, Kobe Bryant re-signed with the Lakers for seven years with $136 million. Bryant stated he enjoyed playing with both Phil Jackson and O'Neal and claimed he didn't influence the Lakers' decisions about them. 

In August 2004, the NBA scheduled a Christmas Day game between the Lakers and the Heat. The game received the highest regular-season television ratings since 1998. Before the game, O'Neal referred to Bryant as a "Corvette" and himself as a "brick wall" during an interview. The game itself had moments of physical play between Bryant and O'Neal, with O'Neal fouling out late in the fourth quarter. The Heat ultimately won in overtime, led by Dwyane Wade. Bryant missed a potential game-winning shot.

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They faced each other twice more during the season, once in the NBA All-Star Game and once in a regular-season game on March 17, 2005.

The Lakers faced the Miami Heat again on Christmas Day in 2005. Unlike the previous year, there was no handshake or eye contact between Bryant and O'Neal before or after the game. 

In his 2011 autobiography, "Shaq Uncut: My Story," O'Neal reflected on winning the championship with the Heat, indirectly referencing the feud. He asserted that he had proven he could win anywhere, not just with a "shot-happy guard" in Los Angeles, likely alluding to his time with Bryant.

Shaquille O'Neal appeared in the 2006 movie "Scary Movie 4," indirectly referencing the feud. In a parody of "Saw," O'Neal's character is kidnapped and hears a frightening voice, prompting him to humorously ask, "Kobe?" 

Shaquille O’Neal's 7-minute-long tearful monologue following Kobe Bryant's tragic helicopter crash

On January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, along with seven others, died in a helicopter crash. O'Neal expressed his sorrow on Twitter soon after official reports of Bryant's death were released.


Two days after the crash, a scheduled game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers was postponed as a mark of respect for Bryant.

During this broadcast, Shaquille O'Neal delivered a nearly 7-minute-long tearful monologue expressing his heartbreak over Bryant and his daughter's tragic death.

 


On February 24, 2020, a public memorial service for Kobe Bryant took place. Shaquille O'Neal was one of the major speakers during the memorial service, providing a speech on their time together as teammates.


On May 15, 2021, Kobe Bryant was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.


O'Neal, who was present at the induction ceremony, mentioned that despite their arguments, he and Bryant always respected each other. O'Neal attributed their mutual respect as the key factor that led to their success in winning three consecutive championships as teammates.

ALSO READ: When Kobe Bryant was told to intentionally miss so his idol Michael Jordan could win his last NBA All-Star Game

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Meet Oindrila, who loves covering breaking news with a finger firmly on the sport's pulse. Her switch

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