Shaq Opens Up About How He'd Push Kobe Bryant's Buttons When They Were Lakers Teammates, And Why He Did It

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant on Players Only
(Image credit: Turner Broadcasting)

The NBA has featured some incredible on-court duos over the years, such as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and (the feuding) Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Of course, another pair of players who must be included among their ranks are Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The two Los Angeles Lakers alums had a “complex” relationship, but few would argue against their effectiveness and impact on the game. In recent years, Shaq has been open about their time as players and recently discussed how he’d push Bryant’s buttons, as well as why he’d do it. 

Shaq was one of the most imposing basketball players to ever put on an NBA uniform and always appeared to have a serious demeanor during a game. However, he didn’t mind being a troll and taking the piss out of his teammates and rivals when given the chance. That apparently extended to Kobe Bryant, as the Diesel explained that he would taunt him during practices. And after hearing the hall of famer’s comments, I’d love to see footage of the exact encounters he describes here:

I’d press his buttons and say, ‘This ain’t your team, this is my team, little man.’ You might be Kobe, but I’m the Shaq. And it would just eat him up inside, and I would see that, and I would use that. Notice how out of all our interactions, Phil Jackson never intervened… Because you got two animals going at it. And his only request was, ‘On the court, make sure you play as one.’ And you know, that’s what we did.

The thought of Shaquille O’Neal busting a young Kobe Bryant’s chops is honestly pretty funny. But as the Inside the NBA host also explained on the Patrick Bet-David Podcast, there was a method to his intimidation tactics. O’Neal chastised Bryant because he saw something unique within his teammate early on and wanted to cultivate it. With that, the retired center opened up about what made the Black Mamba so different from other players:

He was alien-like. When he was 18, he used to be in a locker room, dribbling and shooting without the ball for hours. And then you see him practice the same move on the court. Like he was obsessed with being the best ever. I was obsessed with being the most dominant. He was obsessed with being the best ever. And sometimes you sacrifice a lot of things, and he did. All he did was work out. And I knew all he did was work out, so I used to push his buttons all the time, because I knew what I was going to give you. I know if I could have somebody else that can give similar and more, I was definitely going to win. So I was always the guy to press buttons. The audience thought that it was a personal thing, we hated each other, but no, it was me and my leadership style and what I chose to do to get him to perform at a higher level.

It’d be an understatement to say that Mr. 81 was a different kind of basketball player, as he possessed skills and a mindset that few athletes have. The “Mamba Mentality” is something that so many have attempted to emulate and, based on his on-court theatrics, it’s not hard to see why. If you’re like me, you can still picture the small forward gliding across the court, and such an image no doubt resonates with fans now more than ever. 

Following Kobe Bryant’s death at 41 in 2020, many paid tribute to the late star, celebrating not only his contributions to the game of basketball but to society as a whole. Shaquille O’Neal marked the one-year anniversary of Bryant’s death by calling his parents. And in August, Shaq showed support for his widow, Vanessa Bryant, amid her court case involving photos from Kobe’s helicopter crash site. Though the two bumped heads at times, the two did manage to settle their differences before Bryant’s passing. That’s definitely a comforting piece of information for fans as are stories like the one O’Neal told.

Those who want to hear more anecdotes like these can check out Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers, which is steamable with a Hulu subscription. The show drops new episodes on Mondays as part of the 2022 TV schedule.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.