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Athletes who play alongside one another have a special kind of bond, one that’s forged in the heat of passionate plays, devastating losses, moments of suspense, and even rivalries between teammates. This was definitely the case for Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The teammates famously feuded. But they also forged a close friendship that now leaves O’Neal with regrets in the face of his friend’s tragic and untimely death. 

While fans may remember the two as rivals who famously threw shade at one another on and off the court, the full story is much more complicated. In their post-game years, the pair had developed quite a connection to one another and to each other’s families. Now Bryant’s friend is left to mourn alongside Bryant’s family and his own. 

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal played together for years

Bryant and O’Neal are undoubtedly among the most famous basketball players of all time.

On his own, O’Neal had an impressive start to his NBA career. He received Rookie of the Year and was the first rookie since Michael Jordan to be selected as an All-Star starter. His time with the Orlando Magic culminated in three consecutive playoff appearances. 

It wasn’t until O’Neal joined the Lakers, however, that his career really took off, and a lot of that is due to playing alongside Bryant. The pair took their team to win three consecutive NBA titles. They were truly a force to be reckoned with, and their combined skills on the court made the Lakers a team that will go down in history for its long-lasting success. 

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal famously feuded

Shaq | Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for OREO Chocolate Candy Bar

Of course, all that success comes with some strings attached. When two incredibly talented athletes share the court and the awards, they don’t necessarily want to share the glory.

While the two were both incredibly successful athletes, they had very different personalities. Bryant was known for his focused, competitive edge while O’Neal was much more laidback and relaxed. 

These differences became the core of their dispute with O’Neal suggesting Bryant was selfish and disconnected from the team while Bryant insisted O’Neal was lazy and not committed to the game. The pair each made barbs at one another.

Bryant would question O’Neal’s leadership abilities and poke fun at him for being out of shape. O’Neal would lash out about Bryant’s ball hogging and poor sportsmanship. 

At the height of the feud, the pair simply couldn’t work together. In fact, Bryant revealed that he was about to request a trade and move to the Bulls to get away from O’Neal.

O’Neal, however, had already requested a trade for himself and was headed to Miami to play with the Heat. 

The Shaq and Kobe Bryant feud was not all that it seemed

While it certainly seemed like the pair loathed one another, later discussions revealed that their animosity was not quite as simple as it seemed. For one thing, O’Neal insists that a lot of it was for show.

“I’m the master of marketing. About 60 percent of the time, I was just saying to keep it going,” O’Neal explained. 

The pair sat down together in 2018, and O’Neal admitted that he was unkind to Bryant. They appeared to publicly patch things up.

Later that same year, though, Bryant reignited the fight by saying that he would have had 12 rings if O’Neal had a better work ethic. O’Neal snapped back on social media saying Bryant would have earned 12 rings if he had simply passed the ball more. They were rehashing their old war over selfishness and laziness. 

While fans rushed to either side of the reignited feud, Bryant made it clear that his comment was taken out of context and that he was really praising O’Neal’s talents. He said they were “too old to beef.” 

Shaquille O’Neal has regrets about their friendship

Now that Bryant has tragically died, O’Neal is left with some regrets about their friendship. While one might expect him to regret the feud and the fact that the dynamic duo was split into separate teams, that’s not the case. His regret is about their connection to one another post-retirement. 

“I wish we would have communicated more,” O’Neal explained. He went on to say that he was close to Bryant’s kids and that Bryant was close to his own children.

In fact, Bryant had messaged O’Neal’s son Shareef the very morning of his death. At 8:29 a.m. Bryant asked Shareef “You good fam?” Shareef responded to him at 10:58 a.m. before he knew that Bryant’s helicopter had crashed just an hour before. 

While the pair clearly had a heated and complicated relationship, they ultimately loved one another like brothers and were there for one another’s families. Now O’Neal is left wishing he could have put in more time talking to his friend.