In the fall of 2003, the Lakers held their training camp in Hawaii. Team owner Jerry Buss was sitting courtside at the University of Hawaii for a preseason game where Shaquille O’Neal was having a big game, and after one dunk ran up the court past Buss and said, “Now you gonna pay me?”
It was that contract — and not pressure from Kobe Bryant — that led the Lakers to trade Shaq to Miami.
At least that’s what current Lakers owner Jeanie Buss told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the latest episode of the “All The Smoke” podcast.
“[Shaq] wanted an amount of money that was legal under the CBA but it wasn’t what my Dad wanted to pay him. And so it came to the point where the decision was made to trade Shaq. A lot of people want to put that blame on Kobe. It wasn’t. It was purely a money situation.”
That sounds cut and dried, but nothing from that era of the Lakers was that pure or clean. Between Phil Jackson, Kobe, and Shaq, there were always layers and drama. More than there needed to be. It was hard to fit those three egos in the same room.
Shaq was under contract when he was running up the court in Hawaii pushing to get paid — he wanted a renegotiation and extension, and reports at the time said the sides were nearly $9 million apart (this was all before the current form of the CBA, the rules were very different). It is very likely Buss didn’t want to pay Shaq that much, but if the Lakers had won the 2004 title (they lost to the Pistons in the Finals), would he have really traded Shaq and broken that team up?
Meanwhile, a frustrated Kobe Bryant had pushed for a trade to Chicago — he later said he was looking at schools and homes in Chicago by 2004. Kobe and Shaq were not going to play together much longer, especially if Jackson wasn’t there as a mediator.
Buss put all of this together — the need to choose between Shaq and Kobe, and how much money Shaq wanted — and made the smart call, betting on the younger and driven Kobe. We look back now as that being the only logical move, but Kobe took a lot of heat at the time for “forcing” the trade, and a lot of fans and some media members said Los Angeles should have chosen Shaq.
Jeanie Buss just hopes to make as many smart decisions as her father. So far, she has one ring to show for her decisions.