The Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal partnership is legendary for many reasons, and Kyrie Irving reached out to Bryant for advice on co-existing with LeBron James.
After a spectacular three-year championship run, the Shaq and Kobe dichotomy became too great, and the duo had one of the biggest falling-outs in NBA history. Their divorce was rooted in the solidified dominance of O’Neal and the impending dominance of Kobe. Irving and LeBron are creating the same kind of duo, and, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, he was open about reaching out to Kobe for advice on preventing a soured relationship:
“It’s a tough balance because everyone knows, Shaq was really dominant and [had] a lot of the individual accolades … unbelievable. And that’s who he was. And Kobe was just consistently working on his game and consistently trying to prove everyone all the time. And you got to commend somebody for that. That just shows the true testament of their will and what they’re willing to do and what they’re willing to sacrifice, but I know I don’t want to look back and say that I let my selfishness get in the way of us winning championships, because we have unbelievable talent on this team and unbelievable players, and so I don’t want to ever take that for granted.
“Whenever that time comes and it’s my time to be the leader of the franchise, then I’ll be well-prepared. But for now, I’m cool with just being — I’m very, very cool with being — a great guy on a great team.”
The odds of James and Irving’s relationship going awry is unlikely — to me, at least. They’re very similar. Shaq and Kobe were not. It’s well known that O’Neal and Bryant had two different work ethics where one had more fun than the other. Shaq goofed around a lot, but that’s the guy we’ve grown to love, and it’s hard to slander a goofball who was the most unstoppable center since Wilt Chamberlain and threw up 27 and 12 every season.
Eventually, Kobe came to realize his worth. It was an ultimatum given to the Lakers because he thought he was ready to be the franchise player. At the end of 2003, Bryant had his best season — 30.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists in the regular season; 32.1 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 boards in the playoffs. O’Neal was gone two years later. Regardless of their off-court personalities, both guys were alphas who commanded the ball.
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James is also an alpha, but isn’t nearly as ball-dominant as Kobe and actively defers to Irving if the moment calls for it. Just as we joke about Bryant being a ball hog, we joke about James being too passive — it’s just the kind of players they are.
Kyrie is the clutch player that James never was, but those situations don’t happen if LeBron isn’t leading the charge.
Whether the partnership lasts another three years or another seven, Kyrie is in a great place. He has a chance to learn from one of the NBA’s all-time greats, and James wants Irving to reach the same level as him.
“For me, I see Kyrie growing every single day and wanting to be great. And so me, I just try to give him the blueprint, as much as I can.”
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