Face it, Kobe-Shaq feud brought intrigue to the NBA
Posted: Wednesday January 18, 2006 12:45PM; Updated: Wednesday January 18, 2006 4:25PM
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal apparently put to rest years of shared animosity with a single handshake Monday night in L.A.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Well, what do you know? It looks like those crazy kids have finally grown up. In an unforeseen and not altogether welcome display of maturity, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal apparently put an end to years of petty jealousy and verbal sniping, calling a public truce on Monday before Bryant's Lakers beat Shaq's Miami Heat in Los Angeles.
Shaq and Kobe put a symbolic end to the NBA's highest profile feud with handshakes and hugs before the game. They shook hands during pregame stretching, then embraced at the captains' meeting with the referees, and again when the teams were lining up for the opening jump ball. It was the lengthiest exhibition of manly affection seen in L.A. since, well, you'll have to come up with your own Brokeback Mountain punchline. We're not going to help you.
O'Neal said he was prompted to make peace by former Celtics great Bill Russell, who essentially advised him to consider Kobe a rival, not an enemy, as Russell had done with Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaq took the Hall of Famer's advice. Kobe apparently was inspired by Martin Luther King's birthday. It seemed wrong, he said, for two African-American men to be so at odds with each other on MLK Day. Lakers fans are no doubt wondering why the two stars couldn't have had these epiphanies a few years ago, while they were still wearing the same uniform. The rest of us will take them at their word and commend them for their noble sentiments, but if we're honest, we also have to make a confession -- we liked it more when they wanted to throttle each other.
Face it, the feud was fun -- maybe not so much when their runaway egos were bringing down the Lakers' dynasty before its time, but certainly once Shaq moved to South Beach. It all became harmless entertainment then, with Shaq refusing to refer to Kobe by name, and Kobe dropping a dime about Shaq's personal life to the cops. It was appointment viewing when the two teams faced each other, to find out whether Kobe would have the audacity to take the ball to the rim against Shaq and whether Shaq would pile-drive him to the floor if he did. It was like watching two divas in a soap opera, hoping they would get into a catfight.
Remember when O'Neal declared, in a message aimed at Bryant, that the Lakers were his team? Or when Bryant responded by saying it was hard for Shaq to claim ownership when he had reported to camp "fat and out of shape?" Ahhh, those were the good old days. It was, in a way, good for the league as well. The NBA has always benefited from intense rivalries, like Russell-Chamberlain, Celtics-Lakers, even Knicks-Heat. The Kobe-Shaq rivalry, pathetic as it was at times, attracted the attention of the casual fan in a way that no NBA phenomenon had since Michael Jordan retired. Fans who couldn't name three Spurs or Pistons could nonetheless engage in a lengthy debates over whether Kobe or Shaq was more to blame for the feud.
Now that they're friends, or at least no longer such bitter enemies, both Bryant and O'Neal are instantly less interesting. Their appeal is still considerable, but it's limited to the court. What are we supposed to do for juicy storylines now? Wait for Ron Artest's next meltdown?
The good news is that Bryant and O'Neal have tried to make peace before, only to have their distaste for each other rise to the surface again. Don't be surprised if the good feelings are only temporary, and don't be disappointed, either. A little bad blood can be a good thing.