Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant had a love-hate relationship. The Los Angeles Lakers duo dominated on the basketball court. Yet, their fiercely competitive natures often led to friction behind the scenes. Nevertheless, Kobe and Shaq became good friends later in their careers.
During a sitdown between the two superstars on TNT in 2018, Kobe recalled the first time he met Shaquille O’Neal. Bryant mentioned being rejected by Penny Hardaway, prompting O’Neal to approach him and introduce himself; little did they know they would be making history together just a few years later.
“What most people don’t know is our story goes back when I met you in Orlando,” Bryant said. “In Orlando, you guys had we’re playing the Pacers in the playoffs in 94, and I came to a game, and, you know, Penny back then was my role model. And, you know, I looked up to him quite a bit, asked to take a picture with him.”
“He kind of brushed me off. I remember that. Yeah. And I came to you, asked to take a picture, and you were like, yeah, come here, young fella. Yeah. Where you from?”
O’Neal’s willingness to embrace his fans has always been apparent. The “Big Diesel” is known for his random acts of kindness, and it would appear Kobe experienced that firsthand.
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant once got into a fight in practice
During the 1998 lockout, the Los Angeles Lakers players held multiple practices and pick-up games so that they could stay in shape for the new season.
During one run, things between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal got heated. Olden Polynice and Corie Blount, both NBA veterans who were involved in the pick-up run, recalled the disagreement between the two competitive stars.
“It was just another run, until it was no longer just another run. As he was prone to do in pickup, O’Neal called a series of iffy fouls whenever he missed a shot,” Pearlman wrote.
Pearlman went on to note how Shaquille O’Neal was consistently calling fouls, and then missing his free-throw shots, leading Bryant to share his disgruntlement at the stop-start pace of the game, to which O’Neal threatened him.
“A few possessions later, Bryant drove toward the rim, leaned into O’Neal’s body, and scooped the ball beneath his raised arm and into the hoop,” Polynice recalled. “It was a pretty move, but nothing otherworldly. ‘F— you!’ he screamed at O’Neal, ‘This is my team! My motherf—ing team!’ It felt edgy. Everything stopped. He wasn’t talking about the pickup team, He was talking about the Lakers.’”
“O’Neal wasn’t having it. ‘No, motherf—er!’ he screamed. ‘This is my team! F— you!’ Bryant replied. ‘Seriously — f— you! You’re not a leader. You’re nothing!’”
The disagreements between the two stars continued back and forth throughout the pick-up game until O’Neal escalated the problem by slapping Kobe.
“Smack! O’Neal slapped Bryant across the face. Hard.”
“There was more screaming and swinging after that, as other players stepped in to separate the two combatants. Thankfully, no other punches landed, because if there were, things would have ended badly for Bryant.”
Nevertheless, the pair still managed to bury the hatchet, understanding that their dispute came from a place of competitive fire rather than a genuine hatred for each other. It’s that same competitive fire that saw Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant win three consecutive NBA titles together and a large reason why their friendship blossomed later in their careers.