Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant made up one of the greatest — and most controversial — superstar duos in NBA history back in the day.
Both were brought to the Los Angeles Lakers by then-executive Jerry West in the summer of 1996, and over the next eight years, they experienced tremendous success, when they weren’t seemingly at each other throats.
In reality, the animosity between the two wasn’t as bad as it was portrayed, and fans and observers often remember them in terms of what they didn’t accomplish instead of what they did get done. But O’Neal and Bryant were almost as successful as any other duo. They led the Lakers to world championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Their on-the-court relationship ended when O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004. Although he initially denigrated Bryant publicly every chance he had, he eventually mended fences and formed a real relationship with the superstar guard.
The legendary big man was especially devastated when Bryant died in a tragic helicopter crash in January 2020, and he recently told People magazine that he wish he had done more to cultivate a relationship with the Black Mamba.
“You put off (getting in touch),” O’Neal, 50, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands this Friday. “I’ll never get to see Kobe again, in real life, forever. And I just should have called. He should have called. We both should have called. But he’s working, I’m working, so it’s ‘I’ll see you when I see you.'”
Regardless of whatever their problems with each other may have been, O’Neal and Bryant should be remembered as a devastating superstar duo, and not as one that supposedly left championships on the table when they split in 2004.