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Shaquille O’Neal reveals how many titles he could have won on Lakers with Kobe Bryant

Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Lakers

“Seven.” That’s how many titles Shaquille O’Neal believes he and Kobe Bryant would have ended up winning for the Los Angeles Lakers had the Hall of Fame center remained in the purple-and-gold.

The Lakers three-peated from 2000-02, then lost in five games to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. That summer, O’Neal was dealt to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and two draft picks.

The souring of Shaq and Kobe’s relationship is often cited as the driving force behind the breakup of this Lakers duo. Both superstars wanted to run the show, and their daily beefing proved unsustainable, the tale goes.

However, Shaq has long refuted that narrative. To this day, the Big Aristotle insists that his trade to the Heat was a business move by then-Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, and had nothing to do with the dynamic between him and Bryant.

“The reason why I got traded, it wasn’t about me and Kobe beefing,” O’Neal told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on Showtime’s All The Smoke podcast. “It was because they wanted me to take less money. I’m not doing that. I got money. I had money. I just should’ve been like, ‘Alright, I’ve raised you enough, its your team now. I know what I’m gonna do. I’m still gonna do my 28 and 10…But I was like ‘Nah, i want 150 [million].'”

The three-time Finals MVP acknowledged that he could have been more “tactful” handling a young and ambitious Kobe, who immediately wanted to win and be the focal point of the Lakers.

“He was a guy who wanted it right away. And we all understand pecking order. It was my team. That ain’t about to happen. But I saw that he had something in him. This is where I wish a little more tactful. Egos get in the way…a lot of unnecessary stuff that shouldn’t have happened, happened, because of the ego, and it was probably my fault.”

At the time, the L.A. Times reported that the Lakers and the Diesel were $9 million apart on extension talks.

Dr. Buss’ daughter, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, was also a recent guest on “All The Smoke”, and she painted a similar picture of the circumstances that led to Shaq’s departure.

“[O’Neal] wanted an amount of money that was legal under the CBA but it wasn’t what my dad wanted to pay him. And so it came to the point where the decision was made to trade Shaq,” Jeanie told Barnes and Jackson. “A lot of people want to put that blame on Kobe. It wasn’t. It was purely a money situation.”

During their televised conversation in 2018, O’Neal apologized to Bryant for being “an a–hole,” and called them the ‘most dominant 1-2 punch, little-big, ever created in the game” — a claim he has oft-repeated over the years after his departure from the Lakers.

At Dr. Buss’ memorial service in 2013, Shaq memorably joked about the late Lakers owner trading him rather than meeting his extension demands.

“He gave me everything I wanted. I wanted one extension – he gave it to me. I wanted a second extension, he gave it to me. I wanted a third extension – he traded me.”

O’Neal would win his fourth championship with the Heat in 2006, while Bryant would earn two more rings with the Lakers in 2009-10. However, with hindsight, Shaq admitted that he should’ve sacrificed his ego to keep winning with Kobe.

“If I had to do it all over again, I probably would’ve had a meeting with the family. ‘What y’all wanna do? Want me to take less money? Take the lesser role, stay here? Or you still want me to be Shaq?’ See, it’s that ego. And the ego still got me what I want: I still went to Miami, Pat [Riley] took care of me, and I still won one. But, I would’ve like to have stayed there the rest of my career.”

As Lakers fans have been and will continue to wonder forever: if only.