Kobe Bryant is among the Los Angeles Lakers legends who will be in attendance when is unveiled on Friday. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Tania Ganguli, Bryant reflected on the physicality he saw from O’Neal in their first practice together and said that there’s “absolutely no way” he’d miss the chance to honor the Hall of Fame center.
“When you win three titles together and you’ve had so much impact on one another’s legacy as a player and as a champion,” Bryant said by phone this week, “there is absolutely no way in the world I would miss an opportunity to talk about him and thank him and to acknowledge everything that he’s done for not only this organization and the city, but for me personally.”
Over the years, O’Neal’s relationship with Bryant thawed. These days they talk occasionally, mostly texting about their children. Their rising height, Bryant said, offers a “brutal” reminder of the passage of time. Bryant said they are “extremely cordial.”
When Bryant heard O’Neal was getting a statue, he congratulated his former center via Facetime. That was the only time the two have seen each other’s faces since Bryant’s last game in April of last year.
“I’ve learned so much from him,” Bryant said. “He’s extremely, extremely good at bringing others on the team and pushing them. Striking the balance between hard leadership and a pat on the back. Those are things I learned from him. … That was a big, big shift for me.”
Books have been written about O’Neal and Bryant’s time together with the Lakers. They do not deny that their relationship deteriorated drastically In Los Angeles, but the feud is over now. In recent years, they have stuck up for each other in the media and expressed regret for how they handled their problems with the Lakers. Bryant even made a memorable on O’Neal’s podcast last year -- at the very beginning of the interview, O’Neal introduced Bryant as “the greatest Laker of all-time.”
While it once would have been awkward for the two of them to appear in public together, it now would be extremely strange if Bryant wasn’t a part of the festivities on Friday. Not only will O’Neal and Bryant go down as one of the best duos to ever play the game, they are each aware of the significance of their place in history and would like to be remembered for what they accomplished together, not what broke them apart.
Also: It’s fascinating and kind of funny that Bryant said he learned how to balance “hard leadership and a pat on the back” from O’Neal. Even late in his career, it appeared Bryant was still trying to find that balance.