During a recent interview, Bryant took a shot at O'Neal's lackluster work ethic, saying that he would have had 12 rings had the big fella kept himself in shape throughout their days with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Never one to be outdone, Shaq responded in kind on Instagram, saying Bryant would have had 12 rings had he passed O'Neal the ball in the 2004 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons.
Bryant and Shaq then cooled things off on Twitter, with O'Neal taking an irresistible shot at Dwight Howard in the process:
But you can't help but think that there is still some lingering animosity between these two all-time greats regardless of the image they want to portray publicly.
Of course, Bryant's criticism of O'Neal's work ethic is valid (if not unnecessary, at this point), as that was one of the main sticking points of their off again-off again relationship (it was never on) in Los Angeles.
It all started back during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign, when O'Neal and Bryant actually got into a fist fight during a scrimmage at practice. While things didn't really explode between the two until a couple of years later, that incident laid the foundation for what would end up being an infamous feud that rocked the NBA landscape.
As far as Kobe's point about Shaq's work ethic, that began to become a question during the 2000-01 campaign, when Shaq came into camp out of shape following the Lakers' first championship (of that specific run) the year before.
As a result, the Lakers' offense started to shift toward Bryant, so much so that O'Neal even asked for a trade at one point midseason after Kobe scored 38 points to Shaq's 18 during a win over the Phoenix Suns.
O'Neal grumbled throughout the year about his diminishing role, and even though he was still clearly the focal point of the Lakers' offense, he did not like the fact that Bryant had moved in on his territory to the point where he was almost an equal.
Still, the Lakers went on to win their second straight championship, as the Shaq-Kobe duo was unstoppable even if they didn't get along.
Things simmered down the following season, as deaths in the family of both Phil Jackson and Bryant (coupled with the events on 9/11) cast a rather dark cloud over the team, which basically forced O'Neal and Bryant to get along. And they did just that, ultimately capturing their third straight title.
But that was the end of LA's run.
Heading into 2002-03, O'Neal had a problem with his toe and missed the first part of the season as a result of undergoing surgery in the preseason. He was criticized for not getting the procedure done earlier in the summer, but, naturally, Shaq bristled at that notion.
The Lakers ended up having their worst season in quite some time, starting out 11-19 and finishing with the fifth seed in the Western Conference before going on to fall to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.
Still, the feud between O'Neal and Bryant had laid relatively dormant. That ensuing offseason, the Lakers went out and added Karl Malone and Gary Payton, which looked like the beginnings of a superteam.
The beef began to rear its head again, though, as Shaq took some shots at Kobe, who was coming off knee surgery, in training camp, saying he should pass the ball more until his knee fully healed. O'Neal also seemed to focus on Malone and Payton when talking about his teammates, ignoring Bryant in the process.
That was when Bryant finally began to publicly lambaste O'Neal for being out of shape and even called out his leadership abilities, stating that he never actually took blame for anything.
Everything just took off from that point moving forward. The Lakers started the 2003-04 campaign with a record of 18-3, but an injury to Malone that kept him out for three months caused the team to spiral a bit.
Los Angeles finished with 56 wins and was able to make it back to the NBA Finals, but it was clear that something was not right with the club.
The Lakers were then thumped by the Pistons in five games in the NBA Finals, which proved to be the defining moment of Shaq and Kobe's relationship. Throughout the series, O'Neal had been screaming at Bryant to pass him the ball.
Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat that ensuing summer, largely a result of his toxic relationship with Kobe and because the front office saw the younger, healthier Bryant as the better piece moving forward.
The icy relationship continued. O'Neal won a title with the Heat in 2006, and a couple of years later, after Bryant lost to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, Shaq infamously rapped, “Kobe, tell me how my a– tastes.” Smooth, Shaq.
The beef finally came to a brief rest at the 2009 All-Star Game, as O'Neal and Bryant were teammates on the Western Conference team (Shaq was on the Phoenix Suns by this time) and were named co-MVPs. Bryant gave the trophy to Shaq's son.
But Bryant then went on to win back-to-back championships of his own, and after his second, which gave him five rings to Shaq's four, he said, “Just one more than Shaq. I can take that to the bank.”
From that point on, the feud essentially died, as O'Neal congratulated Bryant on his fifth title.
Since then, the two could even loosely be considered “friends,” with Shaq consistently referring to Kobe as the “greatest Laker ever” and saying he is the best player of the post-Michael Jordan era.
Really, this interview by Bryant marked the first time there were any signs of malice between the two in quite a while, and regardless of how Kobe wants to spin it, it was obviously his way of taking a shot at O'Neal.
Yes, he was asked the question about what Shaq could have been had he had Kobe's work ethic, but Bryant could have just said the first part of his statement (that O'Neal would have been the best of all time) and left it at that.
There really was no need to delve into any extra details and say he would have had 12 rings (which he wouldn't have) had O'Neal not been so lazy.
These two can play the PR game as much as they want, and they have been doing a terrific job of it. And you know what? It's entirely possible that they are, for the most part, at peace with one another.
But it's clear that the beef that started between the two during what was supposed to be an ordinary scrimmage 20 years ago is ingrained in them forever.