Once teammates who combined to help lead the Los Angeles Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles, then adversaries for several years, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal have long been back on good terms with one another.
Bryant attended the unveiling of O’Neal’s statue outside of Staples Center, and the O’Neal returned the favor by being present for the retirement of Bryant’s Nos. 8 and 24 jerseys. In the time between, the two have often spoke fondly of their friendship and time together on the court.
They are the subject of “Players Only: Shaq & Kobe,” which premieres Saturday at 4 p.m. PT on TNT, prior to the network’s coverage of All-Star Saturday Night. LakersNation.com was provided an early screening of the episode, which was a trip down memory lane for the duo.
Sitting to the side of the championship trophies that line Lakers owner Jeanie Buss’ office at the team’s practice facility, Bryant and O’Neal reminisced about their early days as teammates, trials and tribulations.
“That sounds like something that I would say,” Bryant said with a laugh upon being reminded of a prediction that he one day would become the ‘greatest player of all-time.’
O’Neal also expressed admiration for Bryant’s courage against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 playoffs, even if it resulted in the young guard shooting four air-balls.
Bryant revealed to O’Neal what his first observation of the Hall-of-Fame center and what became evident to him. Ever the competitor, Bryant touched on which of his and O’Neal’s Lakers teams he would like to have match up with a specific iteration of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, or Magic Johnson’s Lakers.
For all the public sparring that ensued when the Lakers traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat, it’s clear he and Bryant nonetheless hold a mutual respect for one another. The same friction that drove them to separate is also what, as O’Neal likes to say, made them the ‘most dominant one-two punch.’