When they were together with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal formed arguably the greatest one-two punch in the history of the NBA. Once they split up however, Bryant took a lot of criticism.
O’Neal was the clear first option for the majority of their time as teammates. Furthermore, he was also Finals MVP for all three of their championships together. When he left and won a championship with the Miami Heat just two seasons after leaving the Lakers, many came to the conclusion that he was main reason for the Lakers success.
Related to that was the assumption that Kobe could not win an NBA title without Shaq by his side. As it turns out, that’s exactly what fueled Bryant.
During a recent appearance on the Jim Rome Podcast, Kobe spoke about what it meant to win a championship without O’Neal and what he believes was unfair criticism:
“Critical. Absolutely critical. Listen, I didn’t think the criticism was fair. Magic never won without Kareem, Michael never won with Scottie. Yet, there was the criticism of, ‘OK, Kobe can’t win without Shaq.’ Whether it was fair or not, it is what it is at that point. you’ve got to answer the bell. It was really, really important for me to get that done. Shaq will be the first to tell you I take great pleasure in reminding him of that.”
Kobe has legitimate gripes in that basically every great player in the NBA’s history had other Hall of Fame level players to help them win. Nonetheless that criticism pushed Kobe to prove everyone wrong and it is that drive that made him such a transcendent talent.
It took some time, but once Kobe got those back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, he moved ahead of his former teammate, and let him know it as well. Despite the criticism, Kobe ultimately came out on top.
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