Shaquille O’Neal will go down as one of the most dominant players to ever play in the NBA. At his peak, Shaq was an unstoppable force on the basketball court. Don’t believe me? Take a look at some of his mind-boggling stats. In his MVP season of 1999-2000, he led the league in scoring with 29.7 points per game, while shooting 57% from the floor. He also averaged 13.6 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, and 3.8 assists.
In his three Finals wins with the Lakers, Shaq averaged 38 points, 16.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks in 2000; 33, 15.6, and 3.4 in 2001; and 36.3, 12.3, and 2.8 in 2002. In 2004, it was easy to see the rift between Shaq and Kobe explode. Shaq was still as dominant as in the first three championships, shooting an amazing 63% from the field while scoring 26.6 per game. Kobe scored 22.6 per game in that series as well, but shot 38% while averaging close to 23 shots per game. Shaq, meanwhile, averaged just under 17 shots per contest. That was the last time the two played on the same NBA team.
At an NBA on TNT media event prior to the start of the NBA season, Shaq reflected on his time with Kobe. “When I get inside position and you shoot a jumper, then you shoot another jumper,” Shaq said about his frustration over playing with Bryant. Still, defending Kobe, Shaq said, “I guess I can understand his point of view too, I’m open too.”
Later, Shaq touched on the idea of teammates needing to get along. “I think it’s a misconception about players have to like each other. The key word is respect. You don’t have to like me. Don’t matter if you like me, but I know you respect me when I got somebody on my back…and guess what? When I get doubled I respect you enough to throw it out.” Shaq continued talking about the success he shared with Kobe, and peaked into an alternate universe to see what could have been. “That’s how we were able to win three in a row. If we would have stayed together, could we probably have got six? Definitely man.” We will never know what would have happened if Shaq and Kobe stayed together, but six would definitely have been possible.
Shaq also played with four-time NBA MVP LeBron James, but it was a Shaq that was in the twilight of his career, in his next-to-last season in the league. I asked Shaq what would have happened if he were able to team up with James in his prime.
“We would have definitely got the three in a row, and then we would have stayed together,” Shaq said of the fantasy situation. “He’s the type that, he plays the way you like. He plays too unselfish sometimes.” Then Shaq compared LeBron’s mindset of passing the ball to a teammate not many would have guessed.
“(LeBron) reminds me of the first guy I played with, a guy named Scottie Skiles. If I did that (the ball) was there every time,” Shaq says, motioning with his hands that he is demanding the ball. “I never had to say ‘Scott you missed me’ or if Scott missed me one time, I’m getting (the ball) 10 times in a row. LeBron’s that type of player.”
Shaq seems to think that a partnership with LeBron James would have resulted in the same three championships he won with Kobe Bryant, then more, as he and LeBron would have got along. Perhaps along with Shaq, LeBron would have been secure with the secondary role. Unfortunately, it was the clash of egos between Shaq and Kobe, among other things, that led to the end of one of the most dominant combinations ever to play in the NBA. Shaq and LeBron could have been even more successful.