The duo was a force to be reckoned with as O’Neal dominated the paint while Bryant had his way on the perimeter, providing the perfect one-two punch in head coach Phil Jackson‘s triangle offense. At the time, it was a legitimate question as to when the purple and gold dynasty would end.
However, as Bryant’s stardom grew, so did tensions between him and O’Neal as their contentious relationship was well-chronicled during their time together. In an appearance on the All Smoke Podcast, Isaiah Rider told a story illustrating what O’Neal would do to get under Bryant’s skin as transcribed by Katherine Acquavella of CBS Sports:
“When I first get to the Lakers, Shaq tells me, if you and Kobe get into it, it’s 10 G’s in the locker…This is three days into practice…I’m like, ‘Man, come on, you playing, man.’ ‘There’s 10 G’s in one dollar bills, if you ever get into it and you handle your business, grab that’…I couldn’t believe it, I’m like ‘Man, these boys are crazy, bro’…But this is my thing: I would’ve been off that team so fast if I laid a hand on that man.”
Rider was only with the Lakers for the 2000-01 NBA season, but the feud between Bryant and O’Neal had already begun and it was clear that the latter was looking to ruffle the former’s feathers in whatever ways he could think of. Although it seems Rider never got to cash in on O’Neal’s offer, it does give a glimpse into the locker room dynamic during their run which makes what they accomplished even more impressive.
After O’Neal was shipped out, his relationship with Bryant did not begin to improve until later in their careers where they shared 2009 All-Star Game MVP honors together. Once both of them retired, however, it appeared that fences between them were mended and they were back to being friends.
It is unfortunate though that the two were only able to fix things after their careers were over because those Lakers teams could have arguably won more championships if they had stayed together. O’Neal was still a mismatch for any other center and being flanked by a rising Bryant would have still made them a formidable foe for anyone in the league at the time.