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“I told Kobe Bryant, he was my idol, I think he’s the best player in the league, by far”: When Shaquille O’Neal gave his flowers to the Black Mamba during the 2001 playoffs

Arjun Julka

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Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal had some high praise for his teammate Kobe Bryant during the 2001 NBA Playoffs when the Lakers were on a quest for a 3-peat.

Arguably one of the best duos in the NBA, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant dominated the opposition, especially during the early 2000s. The Lakers duo remains the last team to 3-peat in almost two decades. Though they eventually fell out, they were a match made in heaven when it came to basketball.

At the time, Shaq had established himself as the most dominant player the league had ever witnessed. In his 8-year tenure with the Lakers, the seven-foot center won several MVPs, scoring titles, and championships. Big Diesel’s ability to dominate in the paint was one of a kind.

Shaq and Kobe made four Finals appearances, which included a 3-peat. The duo was a perfect mix of size and skill under the coaching of Phil Jackson. After winning their first title in 2000 and on the quest to repeat, O’Neal stated that Kobe was the best player.

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In an interview during the 2001 playoffs, Shaq heaped praises of Kobe, calling the latter his idol.

The LA Lakers won 11 consecutive games in the 2001 NBA Playoffs.

Coming off winning their first championship Shaq and Kobe were not done yet. The Lakers would continue to dominate the league, the 2001 playoffs being a prime example. The purple and gold team lost only one game in the Finals in the entire post-season.

The Black Mamba averaged 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 1.6 steals during the post-season. While Shaq averaged 30.4 points, 15.4 rebounds, shooting 55.5% from the field. The iconic duo swept the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, and David Robinson in the playoffs.

During a media interaction, Shaq paid Kobe the ultimate compliment.

“I told Kobe today he was my idol. I think he’s the best player in the league, by far.”

The Lakers would go on to face Allen Iverson’s Sixers in the Finals. AI carried the Philly team in the first game of the NBA Finals, putting up a phenomenal performance. However, it wasn’t enough to overcome the dominating duo of Shaq and Kobe.

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After 3-peating, cracks between the relationship of Shaq and Kobe began to appear. So much so that Big Diesel was traded to the Miami Heat, having a massive grudge against the Mamba. Nonetheless, the two legends eventually patched up.

About the author

Arjun Julka

Arjun Julka


Arjun Julka is a NBA author at The SportsRush. Basketball isn’t just a sport for this 26-year-old, who hails from Mumbai. He began watching the sport after stumbling upon a court in his society, helping him identify an undiscovered passion for the game of hoops. Now an ardent fan, Arjun supports Stephen Curry and the Warriors but also enjoys watching Giannis Antetokounmpo own the paint. When it comes to the GOAT debate, the TSR author feels LeBron James is yet to receive a lot of his due but cannot deny marveling at Michael Jordan’s resume.

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