Shaquille O’Neal told Kobe Bryant to sport his own Lakers jersey instead of Michael Jordan’s after they beat the Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals.
The Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal tandem was a success on the court no matter the circumstances that were in play off the court. The two would first team up in 1996 in Shaq’s first season out on the West Coast and Kobe’s rookie season. It wasn’t clear at that moment that a dynamic duo of sorts would form between them both but it wasn’t long until we found out.
Perhaps the first inkling of something brewing over in TinselTown was the fact that Kobe Bryant was getting constant comparisons to Michael Jordan in merely his second year in the league and it was in this year that he made his first All-Star appearance. It was clear from the get-go that the Philly native was going at Jordan every time, and was actually doing a darn good job at it too.
Fast-forward two years into the future and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers found themselves in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1991 against Reggie Miller and the Pacers. The Lakers would handle business in 6 games to claim their first of 3 straight chips.
Shaq told Kobe Bryant to take off Michael Jordan’s jersey and put his own jersey on after their 3-peat.
Despite the fact that Shaquille O’Neal won all 3 of the Finals MVPs from those three NBA Finals wins, it was clear that the tide will be shifting in Kobe Bryant’s favor soon enough. The Lakers would go from being Shaq’s Lakers to Kobe’s Lakers in due time and this transition is what caused problems to arise between the two.
This, of course, was not all as Shaq implied several times that Kobe was a selfish player who needed to look for passing lanes. As Shaq would highlight well into retirement, putting two alpha males on one team to lead it would eventually lead to the team self-combusting.
However, their strained relationship was never broadcasted to the world all too frequently and a particular moment after their win over the New Jersey Nets in the 2002 Finals would lead people to believe they were quite close friends.
“Take that jersey off and put your own jersey on playa,” said Shaq. Kobe Bryant responded with, “About that time?”
Kobe Bryant was paying homage to the last man who successfully 3-peated (Michael Jordan) by sporting his jersey following their own 3-peat but Shaq was right. The Black Mamba had already gone down into the annals of NBA history as an NBA great and he hadn’t even become the Black Mamba yet. It was time for Kobe to wear his own jersey.