It was the conventional wisdom at the time that if the Lakers had won the 2004 NBA title — they lost in the finals to the Detroit Pistons and their stifling defense — that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal would have stuck it out together to chase more titles. The “winning cures all ills” theory.
Kobe says not so fast.
Speaking with Yahoo’s Graham Bensinger in a must-watch interview for Kobe fans, the star said it was over when he heard chatter out of Shaq’s camp that Kobe couldn’t win without Shaq.
“It just wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t in the cards,” Bryant said. “There’s things that I wanted to do with my career and take my career to another level, that I was just incapable of doing as long as we were playing together….
“It just wasn’t going to work, so no matter what happened, even if we had won that championship, me being a free agent, there was just no way.”
Kobe took — and in some quarters still takes — some grief for breaking up those Lakers. But the fact is what Kobe did because he had the hammer of free agency was exactly what Shaq would have done if he had that hammer. They were done with it. Phil Jackson couldn’t keep them together. So Buss made the only logical choice and traded Shaq, convincing Kobe to re-sign. You always choose the younger player with the better work ethic and who took better physical care of himself.
Kobe also sounded sympathetic to the place Jackson was in with that three-peat team.
“The relationship between me and Shaq,” Kobe said. “Him having to deal with that relationship and kind of keeping me at arm’s distance so that, in turn, it can bring him closer to Shaq. And he was dealing with a young racehorse that wanted to get to an elite level very fast… we all three are very stubborn. “”
Kobe said his relationship with Jackson needed to be repaired when Phil came back to the Lakers. It was a matter of communication styles.
“I said, ‘Phil, if you want me to do something, just tell me.’” Kobe said. “He kind of likes subtly slipping messages in there. Where, for me, it’s like just tell me what it is you want. Don’t insult my intelligence by trying to backdoor in there.”