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.