Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I know I'm a little late on this, but I gotta weigh in...
This Shaq freestyle thing...it's gotta be the most ridiculous psuedo-sports story ever. It kicked off the 3 pm Sportscenter Monday afternoon, ESPN treating it as a mix between the JFK assassination and MJ's first retirement. They even had it passing thru the ticker. Poor Shaq had to release a statement assuring everyone that it was all in good fun and apologizing to anyone it offended, but it was too late: that stalwart Arizona sheriff took The Daddy's fake badge away. Consider the Big Pythagorean Theorem Imus'd.
And now, for the first time since their very public split four years ago, Kobe has the people on his side in a situation involving Shaq. For now, anyway. All Kobe has to do is keep his mouth shut and he wins; he'll come out smelling like a rose. While Shaq will be seen as a bitter, washed-up has-been subconsciously and unintentionally letting his insecurites come to light, Kobe will be viewed as the superstar with multiple rings in his future, who was too busy preparing to win a gold medal to stoop to Shaq's level and respond to the big man's childish antics. (Like Kobe would ever make a good PR move. Yeah, right.)
All of this kills me, but one aspect of this whole thing gets me more than anything else. You see, Shaq and Kobe made peace, but the treaty came after they were no longer on the same team. When those two played together it was the most unique situation in the history of basketball: never before had two players that good at the same time shared the same lineup, and unless Dwight and LeBron hook up on the Nets in 2014 we may never see anything like it again. It can't be overstated: Shaq and Kobe were devastating. That's the only word that does them justice. They were a nuclear weapon, the NBA's version of Little Boy, the mushroom cloud hovering over the rest of the league. And neither one of them fully appreciated it. I think Shaq realized what they had more than Kobe did, but he seemed to have a fundamental dislike for Kobe from the very start, and was probably a little jealous of Mamba's popularity, which, at least in the city of Los Angeles, exceeded his. Not to mention the fact that for the majority of their time together, Kobe refused to fall in line and fully accept his role as the second option.
Kobe didn't pay Shaq much mind, for the most part, but he should have accepted a subservient role just because it was better for the team. Other than in 2000 and 2002 (and they played together eight years), Kobe simply didn't do that. He wanted to win then just like he does now, but he also needed to dominate the ball in doing so. The reason Kobe played such team-oriented ball this year was because his teammated were better, yeah, but also because he knows that he's The Man on the Lakers and there's nobody on the team that's going to challenge that. When he played with Shaq, it was almost like he did too much because he was trying to make up for not being Top Dawg. Now, he no longer has that problem. Well, that's my theory, anyway. I'm not a psychologist, so please, feel free to completely disregard it.
Anyways, their inability to reach a compromise on the court (during the regular season of course - during the playoffs they got on the same page and won three championships) led to some genuine, real-life contempt, on a personal level. When Shaq took some subtle, subliminal but meaningful jabs at Kobe in preseason 2004, the Kobester responded with some much more personal, disproportionate overhand rights. The disdain was mutual and it was real; it wasn't just about basketball, they just didn't get along. Then, when Shaq went to the Heat, he launched a crusade against his former teammate that would last for a season and a half before Bill Russell finally got Shaq to bury the hatchett on MLK day 2006, on TNT, during a Miami-LA game at the Staples Center. A month later at the All-Star Game they shared a laugh together on the court like old pals, and there would be no flare-ups in the feud until recently, and of course Shaq swears he and Kobe are cool.
Which brings me to this memo: Shaq, Kobe, fellas...it's okay to hate each other now. You're not on the same team anymore. You had a good thing and you blew it: You won three championships together but you should have won six (in 2004 when Kobe wouldn't pass the ball to Shaq against Detroit in the Finals, and the two following years), all because neither one of you took the necessary steps to stay together and finish the job. Why get along now? Kobe, respond. Make a series of anti-Diesel mixtapes like Game did about 50 and G-Unit. Shaq, do another freestyle. And another one after that. Instill some stuff about Kobe being a ballhog into your stream-of-consciousness, for the next time you take the stage. You two should be at each other's throats at all times, consistent and casual verbal assaults and cheapshots. Hell, you should fight. Fisticuffs.
It would only make sense.