Kobe Bryant’s former teammate says Lakers legend had ‘sleepless nights’ trying to prove he didn’t need Shaquille O’Neal to win ring

Peter Dewey
4 Min Read
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Former Los Angeles Lakers forward Trevor Ariza recently said that franchise legend Kobe Bryant had “sleepless nights” while trying to win a ring without legendary big man Shaquille O’Neal.

Bryant, who tragically passed away in a helicopter accident in January of 2020, was a five-time NBA champion in his career, winning three titles with O’Neal in the early 2000s.

“It drove him f—— sleepless nights,” Ariza said after being asked how demanding Bryant was while trying to win a ring without O’Neal. “I could probably say that. He wanted to prove that he was who he thought he was.”

Bryant ended up winning multiple titles without O’Neal on the Lakers, doing so in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Bryant took down the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics in the 2009 and 2010 NBA Finals, respectively, to add to his total.

O’Neal, who won the 2006 NBA Finals with the Miami Heat after seeing his time with the Lakers come to an end, earned NBA Finals MVP honors three times in his career – all with the Lakers.

Bryant, who did not win a Finals MVP during the Lakers’ first three titles with O’Neal on the roster, clearly wanted to prove that he could lead the franchise to a title even without O’Neal on the team. Even though O’Neal and Bryant were teammates, there was a competitive spirit between the two of them.

There were numerous seasons after O’Neal’s departure from the Lakers where the team did not win a title, and the franchise even missed the playoffs in the 2004-05 season – the first after O’Neal’s exit.

After a couple of first-round exits in the playoffs, Bryant helped the Lakers make the NBA Finals in the 2007-08 season, but the team came up short, losing to the Celtics. L.A.’s fate changed for the better in the following two seasons.

Ariza won a title with Bryant and the Lakers in 2009, and he was able to see up close just how hard Bryant pushed himself to get the Lakers back to the mountaintop.

Players like Ariza, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom were instrumental in the Lakers’ success, but the team clearly needed Bryant to help put it over the top. The Lakers legend ended up winning NBA Finals MVP honors in both titles he won without O’Neal.

While O’Neal still won four titles as a player, Bryant ended up getting a leg up on him with five championships. Still, the two may have been most dominant when they played together rather than apart.

Bryant was named to 18 All-Star teams and won two scoring titles during his career with the Lakers. The Hall of Famer averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from beyond the arc during his career.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.