Shaquille O’Neal sure knows how to make light of a bad situation. The esteemed crowd at Friday’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony burst into laughter after the four-time NBA champion joked about his former teammate Kobe Bryant.
In true Big Aristotle fashion, Shaq’s thirty-minute speech was a mix between stand-up comedy and heartfelt gratitude. Of course, his thank you spiel wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Kobe. He thanked his legendary tag team partner for bringing out both the best and worst of him.
“I’d like to thank Kobe Bryant,” said Shaq, via NBA TV. “[He is] a guy that pushed me to three titles, and then pushed me off the team and got me traded to Miami.”
Shaq and Kobe’s feud has been well-documented over the years. During their stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, both players didn’t quite get along off the court. Kobe criticized Shaq’s work ethic while Shaq scorned Kobe for being too serious and aloof.
Time ultimately healed all wounds. Later in their careers, Shaq and Kobe acknowledged that their duo would have won at least two more champions had they just gotten along.
Their last year as teammates was a very difficult time for the Lakers. After losing to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals, the Lakers had to make a franchise-altering decision.
Phil Jackson was not offered a new coaching gig while Bryant was poised for a lucrative contract extension. Upon learning about Jackson’s departure and Jerry Buss’s desire to revert back to a Showtime offense, Shaq immediately demanded to be traded.
Kobe inked a seven-year, $136 million contract extension with the Lakers just one day after Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat. Naturally, rumors started circulating that Kobe played a huge role in Shaq’s exit.
The NBA cashed in on the rivalry by pitting the Lakers and the Heat in three consecutive Christmas Day match-ups, Fan Sided reported. Heat president Pat Riley recently claimed that trading for Shaq meant more to the franchise than the LeBron James and Chris Bosh signings.
“I’ll say this, and I mean this,” Riley told Sun Sentinel. “Shaq’s acquisition was bigger than any acquisition that we ever made, including the Big Three.”