But as Shaq kept leaving team after team on horrible terms, public perception started to change. People were finally coming around to the idea that maybe it wasn’t Kobe. Maybe Shaq wasn’t the fun-loving Sheriff that loved handing out presents to underprivileged kids as Shaqa Claus. It turned out that for someone as large as he was, he might have also been the most sensitive professional athlete of all-time.
The feud began to heat up again after the Celtics defeated the Lakers in the 2008 Finals. Shaq was taped in a New York nightclub freestyle rapping anti-Kobe lyrics and insinuating that Kobe couldn’t win a championship without him. He even went so far as to blame Kobe for his divorce:
“I’m a horse. Kobe ratted me out. That’s why I’m getting divorced. He said Shaq gave a [woman a] mil[lion dollars]. I don’t do that ’cause my name’s Shaquille.”
Keep in mind there were five years between when Kobe had spoken to Colorado detectives about Shaq’s infidelities and when Shaq’s wife filed for divorce. Speaking of Colorado, Kobe had also taken issue with Shaq for never reaching out to him when he was facing rape allegations, long before it was made public that Kobe had spoken about Shaq paying women off.
But the divorce jab was nothing compared to Shaq asking Kobe to tell him “how his ass tastes” in the chorus and getting the crowd to participate in a call-and-response. Kobe refused to respond when reporters asked him about it and pretended that he didn’t care. Why was Shaq trying to restart something that finally looked like it was dead? Instead, it backfired and Shaq had accomplished the impossible — he got the general public to actually feel sorry for Kobe.
From 2009 to 2011, Shaq did everything to try to repair his relationship with Kobe, Phil Jackson, and Dr. Jerry Buss. He went so far as to endorse Kobe for MVP in 2009 and calling he and Kobe “the greatest little-man, big-man 1-2 punch ever created in the history of the game.” He also sent out a tweet before the 2009 Finals expressing who he was rooting for in the Lakers series with the Orlando Magic:
“thats right i am saying it today and today only, i want kobe bryant to get number 4, spread da word”
And after the Lakers won the 2010 Finals and Kobe passed Shaq with five championships he tweeted:
“Congratulations Kobe, u deserve it. U played great. Enjoy it man enjoy it. I know what ur sayin “Shaq how my ass taste”
Kobe might have had the last laugh when he was asked during the press conference what it meant to win a fifth championship and he said, “I got one more than Shaq. So you can take that to the bank.” But that comment helped to restart the feud, albeit barely. When Shaq was introduced as a member of the Boston Celtics in 2010 he was asked what he thought about Kobe’s comment and he responded with:
“My first thought [after hearing that] was, ‘Well, I guess I’m still relevant. Kobe is still thinking about me, I guess. I’m still someone to be measured against. But I don’t compete with little guards. I don’t compete with little guys who run around dominating the ball, throwing up 30 shots a night — like D-Wade, Kobe.”
Shaq retired after the 2010-11 season. And just when it seemed as if the feud was behind them again, Shaq decided to use his 2011 book, Shaq Uncut: My Story, to again blame Kobe and his legal troubles for destroying the Lakers. In fairness to Shaq, his book wasn’t entirely negative when it came to Kobe. He also wrote of him:
He was so young and so immature in some ways, but I can tell you this: everything Kobe is doing now, he told me all the way back then he was going to do it. We were sitting on the bus once and he told me, “I’m going to be the number one scorer for the Lakers, I’m going to win five or six championships, and I’m going to be the best player in the game.” I was like, “Okay, whatever.” Then he looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m going to be the Will Smith of the NBA.”
Kobe hasn’t responded to any of the things Shaq wrote in his book. Instead he reverted back to his code of silence when it comes to all things Shaq. And that’s where things stand now. Shaq is now a member of TNT’s Inside The NBA crew and has been mostly complimentary of Kobe.
The ceremony is still eight months away. There will be plenty of time between now and April to speculate as to whether or not Kobe plans on being a part of it. But while it’s safe to assume that Kobe will be there, nobody should be surprised if he isn’t. And if he isn’t, no one should hold it against him.