Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and former teammate Shaquille O'Neal won three consecutive championships during their eight seasons together, despite regularly feuding in public fashion. To some, it was regrettable that personality clashes may have prevented an even longer run as a dominant 1-2 punch. But as far as Bryant is concerned, that was never in the cards from Day 1.
"There's no way we would have lasted (15 years). Absolutely not," Bryant told Colin Cowherd during a Tuesday appearance on "The Herd" on ESPN Radio.
Bryant also recalled the moment when he truly realized the two could co-exist for only so long.
"There was an interview that I heard Shaq do which he kind of threw down the challenge of me not being able to win without him," recalled Bryant. "After I read that, I said, 'Aw, that's it.' Some comparison that he made with me and Penny Hardaway, and once I read that, I said, 'You know what? I can't finish my career with people saying that. There's no way.'"
O'Neal said Tuesday playing with Bryant made up "the best eight years of my life," contrary to their often fiery relationship as teammates.
O'Neal described it as "marketing."
"You know we pushed each other," O'Neal said. "A lot of people thought we really had problems, but the problems I created were just for everyone to look at us, to notice us."
O'Neal said the media often took it further.
"A lot of those guys don't really have personality and to get people to look at their paper they added onto it a little bit," he said.
"It was like a non-TV reality show. People are still talking about it, so obviously I did my job as a marketer."
During a 95-90 loss on Monday in Philadelphia, Bryant scored 28 points en route to passing O'Neal for fifth place on the NBA all-time scoring list. But despite their often acrimonious history, Bryant said he looks back warmly on his time playing with the future Hall of Fame center.
"I absolutely do, because what we achieved was remarkable," he said, "especially considering that we weren't a natural pair. We're just not. We were able to make it work and figured out how to go about doing it and dominate games and things like that, but it wasn't a natural mix."
O'Neal said he's satisfied being the most dominant Lakers player, and has no problem with Bryant passing him on the NBA's career scoring list.
"He's still playing; I'm not playing, so it was good," O'Neal said of Bryant moving into fifth place in NBA scoring during Monday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
"I never wanted to be the best Laker," O'Neal added, "I wanted to be the most dominant. I was that."
The comments were a follow-up to a message O'Neal sent Monday night congratulating Bryant.
"I want to personally congratulate Kobe on being the greatest Laker ever," O'Neal told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith shortly after Bryant passed his mark. "His accomplishment is great and well deserved, and I'm really proud of him. He told me when he was 18 years old that he'd go down as the greatest Laker ever, and one of the greatest players of all time. And he wasn't lying.
"I'm a little jealous of him because I was never able to escape the injury bug in my career, while he's never really been injured at all. But all of that is a testament to his hard work and dedication. I'm proud of him. I'm happy for him. And, most of all, I want to thank him for being a part of the greatest 1-2 punch ever created, never to be duplicated."
As for his chances of winning a third title without O'Neal, Bryant said he's not putting pressure on Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to make moves, despite recently describing the 14-11 Lakers as "old and slow."
During the 2007 offseason, Bryant went to several media outlets voicing his displeasure with the franchise's direction, and he demanded to be traded. This time around, the superstar guard expressed far more confidence in the front office's expertise and dedication to winning.
"I'm always frustrated," Bryant admitted when asked how long it would take before frustration set in. "I'm frustrated when we lose one game. But I believe we obviously tried to improve our team. They tried to make a move (for now-Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul), and it fell through. I'm sure they're working on other things as well. I'm not going to get bent out of shape, or hoot and holler, or lose my temper or whatever. I believe we're all on the same page, we know what we want to do. We know what the goal is."
Bryant also expressed confidence in the Lakers' roster as currently constructed, even while acknowledging the team's small margin for error.
"We're going through a little tough patch right now, but we'll be all right," he said.
Andrew Kamenetzky writes the Land 'O' Lakers blog. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.