Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal's beef came to a head after the team's failure to go the distance despite adding legends Gary Payton and Karl Malone to the side to form the first superteam. Ahead of the season, the Black Mamba was ruthless in his remarks against the former Los Angeles Lakers big man and his leadership. With the latter reiterating that he was the team's figurehead, Bryant brought O'Neal's contract details to light.
According to ESPN, the five-time NBA champion, who had won three titles with O'Neal by then, had some fiery comments.
"Leaders don't beg for a contract extension and negotiate some 30 million [dollars] plus per year deal in the media when we have two future Hall of Famers playing here pretty much for free," Bryant said.
"A leader would not demand the ball every time down the floor when you have the three of us [Malone, Payton, Bryant] playing beside you, not to mention the teammates you have gone to war with for years -- and, by the way, then threaten not to play defense and rebound if you don't get the ball every time down the floor," he added.
The comments were out in the open and Bryant dropped them before the start of the season, making the spotlight burn brighter on both the stars as they set out for what would be their fourth championship together.
And for all the major acquisitions, the Lakers still had to deal with several hurdles over the course of the season. Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault in Colorado, his feud with O'Neal was at an all-time peak, Payton struggled to adapt to Phil Jackson's triangle offense, and Malone dealt with injuries for a major portion of the regular season.
Kobe Bryant dismissed Shaquille O'Neal's claim that the Black Mamba wasn't a team player
Prior to Kobe Bryant calling out Shaquille O'Neal, the latter had said that the Black Mamba was not a team player — one that Bryant refuted.
In the same explosive interview, he called O'Neal's thoughts "ridiculous" and went on to explain why it was wrong of his teammate to have made the comment.
"That's ridiculous. I have been successfully sacrificing my game for years for Shaq. That's what Phil [Jackson] wanted me to do, so I did it. Last year Phil told me Shaq was not in physical condition to carry the trust of our offense, so he asked me to do it. But then he saw Shaq was getting upset that the team wasn't running through him, so Phil asked me to pull back and I did. This year is no different; my role is whatever Phil wants it to be. Period," Bryant said.
The Los Angeles Lakers, despite their internal conflict managed to make the NBA Finals, but were put away by a defensively strong Detroit Pistons unit. Kobe Bryant and O'Neal's side went down 4-1 to the Pistons, and the star-studded Purple and Gold outfit had big ramifications following the loss.