I often think about the Kobe, Pau, Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard Lakers’ team within the context of “what if’s”. What if Nash doesn’t break his leg? What if Dwight doesn’t come back so early from back surgery? What if Mike Brown never decides to implement the Princeton Offense? What if Kobe never blows out his achilles? What if, what if, what if.
But, while that team is the most recent example of this, it’s not the one which weighs heaviest on my memory. No, that would be the Shaq/Kobe Lakers and the “what if Shaq and Kobe could have buried the hatchet and just gotten along?”
Sadly, we’ll never know the answer to this question. And while both players ended up doing just fine in the years following — Shaq got a 4th championship with the Heat 2006 and Kobe won back to back championships in 2009 and 2010 — the question still nags at me every once in a while.
It seems I’m not alone, either. This upcoming Monday, Kobe will appear on Shaq’s podcast and today, on ESPN LA 710AM, an excerpt of their discussion was played. The question was whether there was anything either player would take back from their time playing together. Thanks to Serena Winters from Lakers Nation for transcribing their answers:
Shaq: A lot of things, you just played the clip where I said I wanted to be traded. I definitely did not want to leave L.A., but you know that’s how you’ve got to talk when you’re in business, especially when you think you’re in control. Definitely didn’t want to leave L.A. A lot of stuff was said out of the heat of the moment. I guarantee I don’t remember a lot of stuff that they said because I changed my thought process of, you know what we won three out of four, what the hell are you all talking about, this is not really even a story.
Kobe: Here’s the thing though, when you say it at the time you actually mean it and then when you get older you have more perspective and you’re like holy s—, I was an idiot when I was a kid. To me, the most important thing was really just keep your mouth shut. You don’t need to go to the press with stuff. You keep it internal and we have our arguments and our disagreements, but I think having our debates within the press was something I wish would’ve been avoided, but it did kind of create this whirlwind around us as a team with myself and Shaq and the press and the media that just put so much pressure on us as an organization.
It would have been nice of both of these guys could have figured out they were being dopes about their differences while, you know, they were teammates. But, both players make salient points.
Shaq is right that a lot of what was said was in the heat of the moment and, in my opinion, reactionary to what was being reported on at the time. Which brings us to Kobe’s point — both players clearly had media people they fed quotes to and it only exacerbated the dysfunction, leading to them no longer being able to play with each other.
As noted above, both sides ended up doing just fine after the split, but it didn’t come without a cost. Shaq played for three other teams after being traded to the Heat (Suns, Cavs, and Celtics) while Kobe toiled away on some bad teams in three of his absolute prime seasons. One can only wonder if, they’d been on the same team rather than ones on different coasts, both players ring counts might be higher than the nine combined they have now.
Again, though, we’ll never know. That won’t stop me from thinking “what if”, though.
david h says
hey darius: this one’s gonna get a lot of hits.
bottom line for me: at least 7 championships and Phil would have gotten his position within the laker organization.
Biggest “what if” in recent memory. That team could have and should have won 5-6 titles together.
Of course, what was left out of that transcript was Shaq’s refusal to get in/stay in shape, and the whole “company time” remark. I’ve always felt that was the biggest issue Kobe had.
Craig W. says
A couple of points…
1) Shaq got in shape after being shipped to Miami. There is real question about how motivated he would have been, had he remained with the Lakers. He very well may not have gotten that 5th ring.
2) Obviously, I am also in the camp that ESPN uses Kobe and the Lakers to increase their visibility and brand, rather than to advance any sort of truth. Kobe was clearly the ‘bad guy’ in 2004. Now, the scales have shifted a bit and we can see more of Shaq’s warts. I didn’t say we have moved 180 degrees; just moved much farther to the middle.
I like to gamble and play odds. That said, if you take me back to the summer of 2004, and ask me if I would be reasonably satisfied with 3 trips to the Finals and 2 titles over the next 6 years (if we kept Shaq and Kobe), I would have thought long and hard about that and I think it would have been a fair over/under. In fact it would have exceeded our then historical average of making the Finals 50% of the time and winning 25% of the time. So would I give up the two rings, re-write history and take that gamble? I probably would not. And that is coming from an entitled, ring greedy fan.
Now – fast forward to the summer of 2010, right after Kobe jumped up on the table and watched the confetti fly after game 7. If you had asked me what I would have been satisfied with for the next 5 years, I would have probably said, 1-2 titles, and 2-3 trips to the Finals (keep in mind we had a full squad returning from a team that had been to the finals 3 straight years). Then – had you told me we would get zero trips in 5 years, I would have said you were crazy and that those type of results would be an “unmitigated disaster”.
What does one have to do with the other? Well the Lakers, Shaq, and Kobe could have done things differently in 2004 and history would be different. And the Lakers, Dwight, Pau, Lamar, and Kobe could have done things differently during the last 5 years and history would be different. I do not think the 2005 Lakers (with Shaq) were any more/less of a favorite than the 2011 Lakers were. So I do not want to re-write the 2005 – 2010 history. However I do not think there are too many that would not want to re-write the 2010-2015 history.
While it is so true that both players were immature and unprofessional back then, I’ve often thought that Phil Jackson was a big part of that dysfunction.
Despite his much acclaimed ability to handle stars and egos on his great teams, Phil always seemed to side with Shaquille on everything and facilitated the narrative of the selfish Kobe. Even before his tell all book in which he called KB “uncoachable”, Phil threw Kobe under the bus a lot. I can remember so many games where Phil would insist on Kobe running the triangle and stick with the offense until the Lakers were on the verge of losing. Only then would he unleash the then #8. Invariably Kobe would bring the Lakers back. Phil always appeared to minimize Kobe’s worth to the team and he always seemed to imply that there was a lack of buy in to the team concept from said Mr. Bryant. I have always felt that Phil’s tepid support of Kobe fueled the media’s scrutinization of all things Mamba. A scrutiny that continues to this day. Of course, this is JOMO (just one man’s opinion.)
There’s enough blame there to go around with Shaquille, Phil and Kobe all having to share the responsibility for the breakup of that dynasty. Phil usually manages to come off as the adult in that situation. Guess he really is a Zen master.
As the old saying goes, “of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these… It might have been.”
Excellent comment. I’ve often thought that Phil’s ego got the best of him in that situation. But, there is a cycle to all teams, to include coaches, even the successful ones. In some ways, the Shaq-Kobe-Phil era had run its cycle and had nothing left to offer. I’m not sure that even if they could have gotten along, they would have won more championships.
Good point about the cycle of a champion. Or as the current phrase goes, their “window of opportunity.” Another thing, those were win now teams that added veterans such as Grant, Harper and AC Green to get over the hump. Those teams had little use for draft choices. Eventually that reluctance to infuse youth cost them as well.
Craig W. says
Agree with LKK about Phil – yeah, Kobe was his fall guy. Phil has always been a win now coach, not someone who developed people. His specialty was manipulating players and media. Ownership tired of his antics. He was a fantastic coach for what he was, but – as always – there was a price to be paid. The pre-Pau Lakers were the only inferior team he ever had to coach and he overused Kobe, like Byron last year, during those years. Of course that was the time of 63 in 3 qtrs and 81, but I still say Phil wasn’t a developmental coach or anyone to coach youngsters.
There is some truth in what Craig is saying, but as usual, Craig sacrifices nuance and ignores pertinent facts to spin for the FO and ownership. Phil was and is manipulative, but his specialty was winning. Both times Phil took over, the team immediately got significantly better, stayed better for several years, and of course, won five titles under him. Whatever else you might say about Phil, the bottom line is the record. The “antics” are not a big problem when the wins are coming.
As to his relationship with Kobe, I have always thought that there was, among other things, a wink-wink nudge-nudge thing happening there. Whatever Phil may have written about KB to help him to sell books, KB welcomed him back in 2006 and the team made it back to the top.
Developing young players: I agree that this was not Phil’s thing, but upon looking at it more carefully over the years, I have seen that his record in this area is not bad, and part of that is on the FO, which went with short-term strategies late in Phil’s tenure.
Matthew Hunt says
The one thing that’s always left out of this: Dr. Buss.
If he’d said to the both of them (and Phil too), “Sit down and shut up. Figure it out, you’re both here for the long haul.” Would they not both have at least listened and maybe tried?
What really broke them up: the infamous preseason game, after the down year where they didn’t make the finals, when Shaq threw down a dunk then yelled into the camera/at Dr. Buss, “Pay me!”
Dr. Buss looked at Shaq’s work ethic, and then at his demand for a max extension, and decided that 1-2 years might be worth it, but after that he’d be paying max money for an overweight, out of shape big man who could sometimes bring it for 15-20 minutes a game but wouldn’t put in the time off the court to be worth the lion’s share of the salary.
So he told Mitch to trade him and get as much as he could for him. Was there some thinking that if he traded Shaq, Kobe was more likely to re-sign, given the animosity? For sure; Dr. Buss always thought on multiple levels. But if you take Kobe out of the equation, Dr. Buss still would have traded Shaq rather than give him the max to get fat and lazy and *maybe* turn it on come playoff time (with depreciating results as each year went by).
Moses Buhay says
Thank god Twitter didn’t exist during that time. We’d be examining every cryptic Tweet.
LKK- Excellent post!
T. Rogers says
I’m with LKK. Phil was a big part of the problem. I think Phil Jackson is the greatest basketball coach of all time. And I’m definitely a fan. However, his handling of the Shaq/Kobe feud and driving out of Jerry West are deep stains on his Lakers legacy. I get the impression that had West remained his no-nonsense approach would have tamed both Kobe and Shaq’s egos. Both men respected him tremendously. The fact both were getting out of hand were signs that West’s fingerprints on the team were being wiped clean.
A Jerry West led team wasn’t prone to public spats in the media to the degree it happened with Kobe and Shaq. However, Phil almost encouraged it. He used the theater of it all to craft certain narratives. He then used the narratives as “motivation” for different players. He also used his Kobe/Shaq narratives to buttress his own reputation and even Micheal Jordan’s to a degree. (Phil was one of the main people shooting arrows at Kobe when the media compared him to Jordan).
We could argue that West should have pushed back against Phil, but I’m sure there are a lot of things that happened behind the scenes that we fans are unaware of. Either way, we can never recover any lost titles. But I sure as heck wish we could recover Jerry West.
Baylor Fan says
I was very fortunate and was able to see Lakers games when Shaq played. He was not lazy, he was Moses Malone only bigger, stronger, and with more game. The year he was out of shape, he was injured. The training staff led by McKechnie managed to get Shaq in playing shape during the first part of the season. The Lakers had just won 3 consecutive finals and had played more games than any other team. Shaq was very selfless in the abuse he allowed his body to take. He welcomed the physical play around the basket and was not afraid to use his bulk to move players around. Smaller players constantly fouled him (no calls) and he took it as part of the cost of doing business. He finished his dunks in traffic. No player could have taken the physical abuse that Shaq did over that period. His resurgence in Miami had as much to do with his health as the motivation to best Kobe.
It surprised me at the time that Jerry Buss did not do more to help keep Shaq and Kobe on speaking terms. No team had an answer for them and the Lakers needed both to remain at the top. In retrospect, both needed time away from each other to develop their games and see what they could achieve. Between them they went on to win 3 more titles and Kobe proved to be one of the greatest shot creators ever. It was a little like Lennon and McCartney, they were great together but after achieving phenomenal success needed to find out who was better. The Lakers breakup was mourned but maybe it was inevitable.
P. Ami says
Two issues that stand out to me from those Shaq-Kobe teams. In 2004 the Lakers managed to arrive at the finals and play as a heavily favored over-dog and yet lost to Detroit. In those games where Shaq had time to recover, the man rolled while Kobe tried to leave his mark on the series. I distinctly remember feeling that Kobe was going to either lose or win it his way and earn Finals MVP. Nothing since then has given me reason to change my mind. This was the mentality that drove a wedge between the two alpha-dogs on the Lakers at that time. That is my criticism of Kobe’s part.
My criticism of Shaq’s part is in all the comments above about playing himself into shape, getting complacent, and insisting on top dog status. I never thought the “feed the big dog” metaphor was self-aware enough a comment when clearly Shaq was eating plenty. He should have seen the fire in Kobe and used it to warm those aching joints.
I see no way the two players could have gotten on beyond that time they had. Similar to an intern needing to find work in another organization or department in order to truly be viewed as worthy of significant increases in status, I don’t think Shaq was going to ever get past the fact that Kobe had been that 17 year old kid. It took leaving for Miami to get Shaq motivated and it took coming to a team with Wade already established for Shaq to be willing to take second fiddle.
I think we should remember that 19 year old Magic was always happy to say the Lakers were Kareem’s team. It took the failure in ’86 and Cap’s clear diminishment in ’87 for him to decide that it was his team. This was after three championships and 7 years together. It actually coincides rather nicely with the accomplishments of Shaq and Kobe but, Shaq was not yet as diminished as Kareem and nobody could peg the blame of whatever diminishment he had on choice in life-style. Then again, I’m pretty sure Cap and Magic never got so intimate as to know the nuances of certain flavors of each others’ anatomies. Kobe and Shaq are a complicated relationship.
I don’t think the Lakers would have won any more championships with Shaq and Kobe. Shaq was not going to find motivation in LA. The Lakers needed guys to replace Horry, Fox, Shaw, Payton, Malone etc… Kobe needed the middle to open up for him to really bring all his big guns to battle.
I’m happy with how things went. We got two more championships. We got 81 pts. We got Pau, LO, Metta and the second coming of Fish. We got to beat the C’s again (and had to suffer another loss as well). We got Sasha refusing to wear green, make AI want to fight him, and his use of eye-brow grease to juice the ball before free-throws. I’ll take that.
Phil Jackson developed talent. Kobe developed under Phil. LO developed under Phil. Bynum developed under Phil. Ariza, Fisher, Farmar, Shannon Brown, and even Kwame Brown got better under Phil. Jordan learned to be a better player under Phil, let alone Pippin. BJ Armstrong also developed under Phil. Plenty of players had their best years player for the man and I think that shows a capacity for development.
Anyhow, nice write up Darius. Its fun to think back to those Shaq-Kobe teams and recognize just how special they really were. 2000 and 2001 were particularly special teams, either of whom are worthy of discussion with some of the best NBA teams ever.
But I sure as heck wish we could recover Jerry West.
Well said, T. Rogers… Jerry West is deeply missed. His expertise is very real.
-If Shaq and Kobe could have worked out their differences: bottom line: the Lakers, not the Celtics would have the most NBA titles…and that’s what it’s all about.