Shaq Rewrites History, Blames Phil JacksonShaquille O'Neal once said that NBA stands for "nothing but actors" and his latest comments prove that to be true. Remember all the feuding that he did with former teammate Kobe Bryant? It sure seemed real at the time but O'Neal now insists that it was all part of a mind game by Phil Jackson to motivate both players. In an interview with Scott Howard-Cooper of the Sacramento Bee, O'Neal declared:
It's just that I'd say stuff, he'd say stuff. I think it was all designed by Phil (Jackson). Because if you think about it, Phil never called us into the office and said, "Both of you all, shut the (heck) up." Never did that in four years. He knew that when I read something, I was going to get upset. And he knew Kobe was going to always come out and play hard. So I think it was all done by design...He never called us in a meeting and said, "Shut up." And basically, it was never a face-to-face...thing. It was always, he'd say something to you, I'd say something to another guy, I'd say something to you. That's all it was...Now that I look back on it, that (stuff) was kind of fun. It really was. It was kind of fun. "What did he say, what did he say?" I tell people if we would have had a reality show, we'd have had the No. 1 reality show in the world. It was fun. It was actually fun. (Brian) Shaw would be, "Oh, man, why did you say that?" And then Karl (Malone) would be like, "Yo, that was (messed) up what you said." Then we'd try to outdo each other in the game.
But while we were trying to outdo each other, the two best players in the game, we're outdoing everyone by far. (Heck), if he was open in the lane, I wasn't going to say, "(The heck with) you, Kobe." I would still drop it off. But it was actually fun. And not only was it fun, we'll always be remembered as the best Laker one-two punch. I'm going on record saying we're the best Laker guard-center punch. You heard it from me. Ever.
As for the Wilt Chamberlain-Jerry West duo (which was really a trio that included Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich), O'Neal said, "I don't know what they did. I don't know how many championships they won." So much for O'Neal's (self-proclaimed) knowledge of the history of the game and its greatest big men; in 1971-72, the Lakers set the all-time record with 33 straight wins (an achievement that was in the news again last season during the Rockets' 22 game winning streak), won a then-record 69 games and beat the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. O'Neal also dismissed the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-Magic Johnson duo: "What'd they get, five championships together? Pretty good. They were pretty good. But, hey. I'm going on record. This is my opinion. This is just me. Kobe and Shaq was the best, most exciting one-two punch in Lakers history. That's just me. Despite what went on or what you think went on. That's what I think."
O'Neal is right that regardless of what he or Bryant said about each other they worked well together on the court; neither player will ever have a more talented teammate or a teammate whose skill set is more complementary: a dominant big man and a great all-around perimeter player make for a perfect pairing. However, even if all the stuff that O'Neal and Bryant said about each other seems funny to O'Neal now, I don't believe for one second that it seemed funny back then--and I'll guarantee you that when Bryant publicly blasted O'Neal for not being in shape that was no laughing matter to Bryant.
Asked about O'Neal's comments, the L.A. Daily News reports that Bryant replied, "You're not getting anything out of me but plain vanilla. I'm not saying anything. I learned from my man Tiger. My mouth is locked." Derek Fisher, the only current Laker who was on the three championship teams with O'Neal and Bryant, was very amused by O'Neal's revisionist take and enjoyed a long laugh before saying, "That's my response." When Coach Jackson was told that O'Neal blamed "everything" on him, he wryly responded, "Even his (notoriously poor) free-throw shooting?" The Daily News article suggested that O'Neal is angling to return to the Lakers in 2010 after his contract with Phoenix expires but that is a misreading of what O'Neal said to Howard-Cooper. Here is the relevant exchange between O'Neal and Howard-Cooper:
Question: Could you see yourself having a final season in Los Angeles? I know you love it there. I know the relationship hasn't always been good with the team, but you've been saying a lot more nice things lately. Could you see yourself going in there in a situation that you play 16, 18 minutes a game?
Answer: I don't want to answer that now because it would be unfair to Mr. (Steve) Kerr (the Suns president). I don't want to answer that. But who knows. I don't like to think that far ahead, but anything could happen.
Q: Has it entered your mind, finishing your career as a Laker?
A: No. I always sit back and think, "Who's going to retire my jersey?" And I don't know, to tell you the truth. I don't know if it's going to be Orlando, L.A., Miami. I don't know.
There is a big difference between saying "anything could happen" and actively seeking to make something happen. The idea that O'Neal would finish his career in L.A. playing alongside Bryant as a backup to Andrew Bynum is too bizarre to take seriously.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:58 PM