Posted: Tuesday January 17, 2006 10:10AM; Updated: Tuesday January 17, 2006 1:41PM
One of the NBA's few interesting storylines came to an end on Monday night when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal made peace.
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LOS ANGELES -- It was the most anticipated embrace this town has seen since Tomkat, Bennifer or Brangelina were first spotted by the paparazzi. For the first time in two years Shobe were together again, and while their make-up session might not make the cover of Us Weekly, it wasn't too shabby compared to its Hollywood counterparts. There was eye contact, a handshake and -- ohmygod, ohmygod -- even a hug; two to be exact.
The resolution to one of the most heated personal feuds in sports was set in motion three days earlier in Seattle when Shaquille O'Neal sat down with Celtics legend Bill Russell at KeyArena prior to the Heat's game against the SuperSonics. While O'Neal talked basketball with one of his idols, he asked Russell a question that the Hall of Fame center knew had larger meaning.
"We just talked about rivals and I asked him if there was ever a rival he didn't like and he said, 'No, never.' He told me that the thing that was going on between me and Kobe was silly and that on Martin Luther King's birthday I should go up to him and end it."
O'Neal, who has a great appreciation for the history of the game and has often turned to the likes of Russell, Jerry West and Magic Johnson for guidance, was moved not only by what Russell told him but also by a call he received from his parents prior to Monday's game.
"What the great Bill Russell said meant a lot," said O'Neal, who scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in losing to the Lakers, 100-92, for the first time since being traded to the Heat in 2004. "He said he never had any rivals. He said he talked to Mr. (Wilt) Chamberlain at least once a week before he passed away, and I actually thought they hated each other, but he told me that wasn't the case at all. It was something I had to hear from a guy like that. My mother and father also called me and told me to shake Kobe's hand and that we were making a big deal about nothing. And even though I do act crazy sometimes, I do listen."
With the casually late-arriving Lakers fans still making their way to their seats before the game, O'Neal didn't waste any time burying the hatchet with Kobe, going up to his former teammate as the Lakers and Heat were warming up before their nationally televised game. While Bryant was lying down near midcourt, stretching his legs with a trainer, O'Neal walked over and looked down at him and extended his hand, which Bryant immediately grabbed and shook with an almost bewildered smile on his face.