For NBA fans outside of Los Angeles, the 2009 All-Star game was a chance to see the best players the association has to offer on the court at the same time. For a majority of Los Angeles, though, the game brought a sense of nostalgia.
And perhaps some closure to the unfortunate, and sometimes nasty, rivalry between one of the greatest duos in sports history, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Hollywood couldn’t write a better script than the brutal reality of the last eight years: Two superstars who were wrapped up in an overblown feud which eventually polarized the second largest city in the United States. Even when one of them left to play on the other coast, the media still salivated at the story (or non-story) that was Shaq vs. Kobe.
Shaq said this. Kobe said that. Shaq did what? Kobe responded how?
Fans spread the news as much as the media did. Shaq was better-liked overall, but Lakers fans sided with Kobe more. Probably because Shaq did most of the talking, and Kobe stayed relatively quiet.
Shaq vs. Kobe was often the topic of debate. Everyone wanted to blame one person. Some blamed Shaq, others blamed Kobe. Some blamed Jerry Buss, others blamed Phil Jackson. Some blamed their neighbor’s dog while others blamed their ex-girlfriend.
Those who blamed Shaq cited his lack of conditioning prior to the 2003-04 season, or his rap video last summer, in which he half-jokingly told Kobe, ‘tell me how my ass tastes.’
Those who blamed Kobe cited that he signed his contract extension just days after Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat for 50 cents on the dollar, or the details of his statement to the Eagle, Colo. police back in 2004, in which he ratted out Shaq for supposedly messing around with women while being married.
However, the blame was never put on who really deserved it, the media. Did Shaq and Kobe fuel the fire and give the media something to talk about? Of course they did. It’s no secret that Staples Center wasn’t big enough for the both of them. But did Shaq and Kobe ever show a genuine hate for each other? Not really.
Now, they were never friends, and they never will be. But Shaq and Kobe have always had respect for one another. Shaq was never hesitant to call Kobe the best player on the planet, and Kobe didn’t show a grudge when Shaq had negative things to say about his former running mate ‘hellip; at least not in public.
Those who have followed Shaq’s career will tell you that he blasts you in the media and later gives you a big bear hug. Call him hypocritical or call him what you want, but 99.9 percent of the league gets along with him, and there’s something to be said about that. Believe it or not, Kobe is one of the most disliked players in the league. You add those two formulas together and you get Kobe in lose-lose situations.
Kobe has always kept to himself. He’s not the entertainer and joker Shaq is. When Shaq said something negative, it was taken with a grain of salt. When Kobe said something negative, we knew it was from the heart.
Their different personalities showed at the All-Star game. Shaq wanted to host and entertain, even dancing impressively with the JabbaWockeeZ during introductions. During the game, he let things come to him, scoring 17 points in 11 minutes.
On the other hand, Kobe was serious, as always, and came out shooting in the first quarter. That’s ironic because Shaq and Phil were on the bench at the time. One would expect them to turn to each other and shake their heads as if to say, ‘He hasn’t changed, has he?’
But Kobe has changed. He’s laid back, mellower and more willing to share the spotlight, even running plays for Shaq in the third quarter. Kobe still got his, finishing with a game-high 27 points.
And for maybe the last time, Shaq and Kobe guided their team to victory, and they were rewarded with co-MVP honors.
If it is indeed the final chapter, then there’s not a more fitting way to finish the script. Maybe now Lakers fans can forget that there ever was a rivalry and remember that they had the most dominating combination for a span of three years. One wonders how many more titles they would have won had they worked things out.
But looking back realistically, they probably needed to split up. Shaq was growing tiresome of Kobe’s mission of becoming the best player in the game. And Kobe wanted to prove that he could win without the Diesel.
Who knows? Maybe ESPN Classic won’t be the only place we see Shaq and Kobe together again. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from these two is to expect the unexpected.