NBA AM: Shaq Dishes on Kobe, LeBron
Shaquille O’Neal earned a reputation for being outspoken throughout the course of his 19-year career in the NBA. O’Neal was always straight forward and honest, which is why reporters could always count on him for an excellent quote and why he’ll be so entertaining on TNT’s Inside the NBA whenever the season starts. That’s just O’Neal’s personality, and it shines through in his new book “Shaq Uncut: My Story.”
The autobiography, which O’Neal wrote with Jackie MacMullan, will be available on November 15. HOOPSWORLD obtained a copy of the book, which chronicles O’Neal’s life from childhood to retirement. He provides a behind-the-scenes look at his stints with the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. However, O’Neal also takes time to discuss his relationships with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard among other players.
The feud between O’Neal and Bryant was one of the biggest storylines in the NBA for several years, and it’s one of the juiciest parts of the book. O’Neal admits that the two stars weren’t on the same page from day one, with Bryant representing new-school players and O’Neal taking a more old-school approach. Both were alpha males and it was only a matter of time until they were arguing over touches and dividing the team – “You were either a Kobe guy or a Shaq guy.” It didn’t take long for the media to hear about their bickering, and the two stars didn’t hide how they felt about each other:
Just before the start of the ’03-’04 season the coaching staff called us in and said, “No more public sparring or you’ll get fined.” Everyone knew it was simmering, but Mitch [Kupchak] never came down. Magic Johnson, who was around all the time, never said anything. But Phil was tired of it. Karl Malone and Gary Payton were sick of it. I said, “All right, I hear you. I’m done.”
So what happens? Immediately after that Kobe runs right out to Jim Gray and does this interview where he lets me have it. He said I was fat and out of shape. He said I was milking my toe injury for more time off, and the injury wasn’t even that serious. (Yeah, right. It only ended my damn career.) He said I was “lobbying for a contract extension when we have two Hall of Famers playing pretty much for free.” I’m sitting there watching this interview and I’m gonna explode. Hours earlier we had just promised our coach we’d stop. It was a truce broken. I let the guys know, “I’m going to kill him.”
Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak asked Brian Shaw, who played with the duo one year earlier, to travel to Los Angeles the following morning to serve as a mediator. O’Neal was ready to fight Bryant, saying it was “time to knuckle up” and threatening to “kick his goddamn ass.” Shaw – along with veterans Horace Grant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton – calmed O’Neal down and had him wait in a theater in the Lakers’ practice facility:
A few minutes later Kobe pulled up. Brian said to him, “Shaq is going to kill you. He’s going to f*** you up on sight.”
Kobe grinned and said, “Ooooh, am I supposed to be scared?”
“Yes,” Brian told him. “This is no joke.”
They get me and Kobe into the theater and instantly it’s a shouting match. We’re cursing each other and calling each other names and I’m making a move for Kobe when BShaw steps in and tells us both to sit down.
Shaw told both players that they had each made their share of mistakes, and the duo’s teammates chimed in to let them know how their fighting was affecting the team. The Lakers went on to win 20 of their first 25 games that year, despite all of the off-court drama. O’Neal credits Shaw for keeping him and Bryant in check:
Somehow Kobe and I made it through the rest of the year without any major issues. BShaw managed to get us back on track. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. All of these supposed Lakers leaders who care so much about the franchise, all these Lakers legends, none of them ever had the courage to say anything to Kobe and me. Not Kareem, not Magic, not Mitch Kupchak, none of them. Only Brian Shaw took us on. Yet when the Lakers job came up in 2011 they didn’t give Brian Shaw a chance by looking right past him. Go figure.
O’Neal also talks about his experience in Cleveland, when the franchise was desperately trying to keep LeBron James happy. He writes that James received special treatment from Mike Brown, and wonders if Brown will have similar problems with Bryant in Los Angeles:
LeBron was a huge star. He was as big as I was in 2000 in L.A. when I was dominating the league. … Our coach, Mike Brown, was a nice guy, but he had to live on edge because nobody was supposed to be confrontational with LeBron. Nobody wanted him to leave Cleveland, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.
I remember one day in a film session LeBron didn’t get back on defense after a missed shot. Mike Brown didn’t say anything about it. He went to the next clip and it was Mo Williams not getting back and Mike was saying, “Yo, Mo, we can’t have that. You’ve got to hustle a little more.” So Delonte West is sitting there and he’s seen enough and he stands up and says, “Hold up, now. You can’t be pussyfooting around like that. Everyone has to be accountable for what they do, not just some of us.” Mike Brown said, “I know, Delonte. I know.” Mike knew Delonte was right. …
I’m not sure if Kobe is going to listen to Mike Brown. LeBron never really did. Here’s what we do know: Kobe will definitely be in charge.
O’Neal also looks back on how his lone season with James came to an end, with a disappointing showing against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He draws comparisons between that series and James’ performance against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals:
There’s no question in Game 5 LeBron was kind of out of it. … I always believed he could turn it on at any moment, but for some reason he didn’t. Not against the Celtics in 2010 and not against the Mavericks in 2011. It was weird. It’s one thing to be a passer, but you are supposed to be the One. I’m watching him play against Dallas, and they’re swinging the ball and they get him a perfect open look – and he’s kicking it to Mario Chalmers. Makes no sense. I told people, “It’s like Michael Jordan told me. Before you succeed, you must first fail.”
Throughout his career, O’Neal played with some of the best young stars in the league. Looking back on his stints with Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, he admits that he treated each player differently:
I always tell people in terms of being tough on the young stars, I was a 10 with Kobe and a 4 with DWade and a 1 with LeBron.
However, O’Neal’s former teammates aren’t the only players he discusses in the book. He also shares his feelings about Dwight Howard:
Dwight Howard is by himself. If he doesn’t get four rings, I’ll be disappointed in him. There’s no one for him to go up against. When I was playing I had [Patrick] Ewing in his prime. I had Rik Smits, Arvydas Sabonis, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutumbo. I had Vlade Divac, Kevin Duckworth. I caught some of David Robinson. [Greg] Ostertag. Guys with size. Now, I couldn’t name five centers.
Dwight Howard and I don’t really have a relationship. I don’t like people who lack originality. The whole Superman thing doesn’t work for me. … It’s kind of weird how he’s handled his career. He wants to be Superman. They’re talking about him going to L.A. when his contract is up. When I go back to the Orlando area in the offseason, they are doing all the same things for him they did for me. But that’s a mistake. He’s Dwight Howard. He’s not Shaq. Be your own man. Create your own brand.
I do feel for him sometimes. It’s all on his shoulders, just like it was all on mine, and when he doesn’t get it done he’s the one standing there trying to explain, even though he put up huge numbers. Nothing changes in the NBA. It’s not always fun being Dwight Howard, but if you call yourself The Man, well, you gotta deal with it.
O’Neal is an excellent storyteller and he doesn’t disappoint in “Shaq Uncut: My Story.” The book can be pre-ordered here.
Rudy Gay Announces Charity Game: Since the lockout commenced on July 1, NBA players have been organizing star-studded charity games across the country. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul have assembled teams and held games in Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia.
Now, Rudy Gay is having his own charity game in Memphis on November 8.
Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, John Wall, Josh Smith, Corey Maggette, Kyle Lowry, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo, Nate Robinson, Sebastian Telfair and Penny Hardaway are among the players expected to play in the game.
HOOPSWORLD Chats: There are two chats on today’s schedule. HOOPSWORLD’s salary cap and CBA guru Larry Coon will kick things off at 3 p.m. ET with his weekly chat. Up next, HOOPSWORLD’s Mark Nugent will be answering your questions at 5 p.m. ET. Submit your questions early because these chats fill up fast. To view all of HOOPSWORLD’s upcoming chats, click here.