When dealing with clashing players on a team, a head coach must entrust his process so that their players can buy into their system. For former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, managing Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal required bonding in order to form a base of trust.
It was no secret the duo had many clashes during their tenure together, but the pair also understood the precedence of winning. At the end of the day, they felt that the elusive championship ring could solve all their arguments and scuffles.
While they would go on to capture three consecutive titles together, there remained plenty of trials and tribulations. Bryant was an up and coming star, ready to burst onto the scene. In his rightful mind, he believed that he deserved as many, if not more, touches than O’Neal.
On the contrary, O’Neal had already established himself as the most dominant center in the NBA, virtually unstoppable on the court unless opposing defenses continued mauling him. O’Neal remained the anchor of those championship teams, while Bryant also attempted to earn a lion’s share of the success.
In an interview on ‘The Big Podcast with Shaq’, Jackson discussed how the offense was ran during their championship days, alluding to O’Neal as the clear cut focal point:
“It was about what was going to be the focus. And by having an offense that was focused on really putting the ball in the middle, at the center, having that triangle system in place,” Jackson said. “That gave the whole emphasis of the team. Let’s get the ball inside and we can dominate at this particular position. As the game goes on, when situations present itself, Shaq is out of the game, Kobe has an opportunity then to do things that are important.”
Jackson was also asked if the Shaq-Kobe relationship was the greatest psychological battle he faced during his coaching career. The 11-time championship coach stated it existed before his arrival and that it was more about managing it.
During their first run together, Bryant suffered an injury in their first exhibition game. Upon missing six weeks, Bryant returned three weeks into the regular season.
Although Bryant was an easy adjustment back into the triangle offense, he also demanded a certain amount of touches. The young shooting guard was yet to reach his peak, but also demanded as much from others as he would from himself.
While Bryant and O’Neal were featured in a heavily publicized feud, the two eventual Hall-of-Fame players (pending Bryant’s introduction) have squashed what remains of their beef and have a fitting public relationship.
During O’Neal’s induction ceremony into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Bryant gave a snippet on what O’Neal meant to him and the game of basketball.
The relationship the three formed during their tenure with the Lakers was one of the most dominant eras in Lakers franchise history. Before his induction, Jackson reiterated that he was pleased O’Neal went in as a Laker, alluding to the domination he had during their championship window.