Inside the Kobe-Shaq feud
Mark Heisler examines the rocky relationship between Kobe and Shaq
The tension started when training camp began before the 2003-04 season
"I know how to play my guard spot," Kobe said. "He can worry about the post."
This excerpt from Madmen's Ball: The Continuing Saga of Kobe, Phil, and the Los Angeles Lakers is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.
Earlier this week, former Laker Shaquille O'Neal said he didn't have a problem with Kobe Bryant and blamed their fued on coach Phil Jackson. But in his book Madmen's Ball: The Continuing Saga of Kobe, Phil and the Los Angeles Lakers, author Mark Heisler goes behind the scenes and writes that the 2003-04 season got off to a chilly start.
As things turned out, the problems that surfaced in Honolulu were just a tune-up.
On media day, the organization set up a picket line outside the El Segundo practice facility and barred some members of the media, hoping to lessen the hysteria. Perhaps thinking he could redirect the media, like Moses parting the Red Sea, Jackson reminded them there were more important things, like the war in Iraq, going on. Of course, without press coverage that was disproportionate to the importance of what he did, Jackson wouldn't be making $6 million annually. In any case, the press didn't melt away.
Every day, Lakers p.r. director John Black announced Bryant would only take basketball questions, but it was the reporters' job to ask other questions, and Bryant often answered them. When a CBS producer asked Bryant about that day's events in court, Black lifted her credentials on the spot. After Newsweek's Allison Samuels wrote a tough cover piece, she couldn't even get credentials.
For his part, Jackson regarded this as the usual hysteria, like that which he'd turned to his own advantage in Chicago. He jauntily told the press he would show players "how to dodge questions that you guys present," and said Bryant's situation might actually be a "boon" that brought them together. Everyone else in the organization was considering alternative careers.
"Just assume this is the season from hell," someone told Black, "and anything that doesn't go wrong is a bonus."
"I just didn't know the flames would be so hot," said Black.
Four days later, O'Neal, sitting out an exhibition in San Diego, said he was doing it because "I want to be right for Derek, Karl, and Gary." In case anyone had missed the significance of what he'd said, Shaq repeated the list of players he wanted to be right for, which didn't, of course, include Bryant.
Bryant was now venting in front of teammates, vowing to leave at the end of the season when he'd be a free agent-free, that is, to get away from O'Neal. Of course, that got back to O'Neal, who got even madder at Bryant. The feud was back on and spiraling toward a showdown.
Everywhere they went, the press corps, which included many members who cared little about basketball, followed. Before an exhibition at Staples, a TV guy doing a courtside remote asked a local writer, "Which one is Payton?" In Las Vegas, a TV woman entering the dressing room greeted Derek Fisher with a breezy, "Hey, Deron!"
Bryant finally began practicing on October 18. The veterans had the day off, so it was just Kobe, looking like he was enjoying himself, and the young guys on a quiet Saturday afternoon in El Segundo.
"Some days must be better than others," someone suggested to Bryant afterward.
"Every day is a bad day," he said.
Bryant played his first exhibition in the next-to-last one, against the Clippers in the Pond of Anaheim, on October 23. He was rusty but brash as ever, getting up 14 shots in 32 minutes and missing 10. The sideshow was better than the show. Mike Tyson attended to show support for Bryant. Two security people ushered Vanessa into the press room and made sure the ladies room was clear before she entered. Vanessa wore a top with "Fashionable Motherf------" written on it.