Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant spoke at length about the infamous breakup with Shaquille O’Neal after winning three titles together early in their careers. Bryant, a guest of the Knuckleheads podcast, admitted to fellow retired NBA players Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles that he was tired of getting flak for his partnership with one of the most dominant players in the league, and wanted to prove he could win titles on his own:
“Here is the thing. I get chastised a lot for being selfish, saying we just got to fit into a team, it’s about winning championships,” said Bryant. “I get it, I’m doing it, right? We won three straight. I got it. But I also knew that when my career’s over they’re going to chastise me for the same thing: ‘Oh well, you’re only great because you played with Shaq.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa, hold up. You can’t have it both ways, bro?’ You know?”
.@KobeBryant and @SHAQ. Forces of nature, whether playing together or not. Full episode: https://t.co/ZyWXxhSVbO
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— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) September 18, 2019
“So it was important for me and Shaq to go separate ways because I didn’t want people to use that against me — they still do — but it was important that I win championships without him,” Bryant continued. “And you get a glimpse of what I could have done individually had I not played with him. See what I’m saying? So that was a big driving factor. It was like, ‘Hold on, don’t get it f***ed up now.’ Like, I’m doing this thing, I’m playing with Shaq, it’s like — take Mike put him with Wilt — Shaq was a force of nature, right? So you’ve kind of take a back seat.”
Bryant would go on a scoring tear soon after Shaq parted ways with the Lakers, and while it was Shaq who had the first laugh by winning a title with the Miami Heat in 2006, it was Bryant who had the last laugh, winning back-to-back titles on his own with Pau Gasol as his anchor.
Following his 20-year career, there’s no disputing Bryant was deserving of his own merits and not merely a supporting star who got carried to championships. Luckily for him, he still had a lot of basketball left once O’Neal departed, allowing him to solidify himself as one of the greatest to play his position.