Shaquille O’Neal was not having it when he thought ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith wasn’t giving Kobe Bryant enough respect in the conversation for the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) compared to other all-time greats like Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
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“We as people, we gon’ stand on what we stand on,” O’Neal said. “But I have a problem with what you said. Doesn’t matter who the G.O.A.T is — my guy should be in the conversation.
“… You guys just throw him out of the conversation. So, somehow it just went from Mike to LeBron, and you just threw my guy out of the conversation. His name needs to be in there all the time. And when his name is not in there, that’s when people have a problem.”
Bryant and O’Neal combined to win three straight NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Smith brought up the fact that Bryant was helped to those rings by having O’Neal as a teammate in his prime.
“That’s not the point,” O’Neal said. “The point everybody is making is don’t leave him out the conversation.”
Smith then defended himself by saying he was not leaving Bryant out of the conversation.
“You are,” O’Neal said in response. “I always hear Mike and LeBron, and I used to hear Mike and Kobe. Certain people can be in the conversation. Certain people can’t. Before y’all say one and two, you can’t leave my guy out.”
Bryant did go on to win two NBA championships with the Lakers without O’Neal — in 2009 and 2010 — giving him a total of five, which is one fewer than Jordan won with the Chicago Bulls but one more than James has won in his NBA career across stints with the Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat.
Trevor Ariza is one former Lakers teammate who has said Bryant is the best NBA player ever, ahead of Jordan and James.
The late Lakers legend will have a statue unveiled next month on Feb. 8 outside Crypto.com Arena. He died in a helicopter accident in January 2020 at the age of 41.
Bryant last played in the 2015-16 NBA season, and during his time in the league, he averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. He retired as an 18-time All-Star, one-time MVP and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
James still has time to add to his legacy and credentials in the debate, and he has already done so this season by helping the Lakers win the NBA Cup as the first champions of the In-Season Tournament. The 39-year-old also was named the first MVP of the competition.
An NBA Finals victory may be more difficult to come by this season, however, with the Lakers currently struggling. They are taking a four-game losing streak and 17-19 record into their game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday that could be “crucial” for the future of head coach Darvin Ham.