It's been over four full seasons since Shaq and Kobe were teammates, but the media still can't get enough of any news that remotely touches on the feud the two had while playing together for the Lakers. Earlier this week, both the local papers as well as ESPN picked up some comments that Shaq supposedly made about Phil Jackson being the one who "orchestrated" the conflict between him and Kobe. The quotes originated from the Sacramento Bee, and went like this.
"I think it was all designed by Phil," he said. "Because, if you think about it, Phil never called us into the office and said, `Both of you, shut the (heck) up.' Never did that in four years. He knew that when I read something, I was going to get upset. And he knew Kobe was going to always come out and play hard.
"So I think it was all done by design."
Asked if he believed Jackson did it to motivate the players, O'Neal said, "Yeah, I think that's exactly what it was. ... He never called us in a meeting and said, `Shut up.' And basically, it was never a face-to-face ... thing. It was always, he'd say something to you, I'd say something to another guy, I'd say something to you. That's all it was."
Another tidbit in that interview was that Shaq said he wouldn't rule out a return to the Lakers when his contract with the Suns is up in 2010. Problem is, after practice yesterday, Shaq claimed he never said any of this. The interview was done during the preseason, and was run when the Suns visited Sacramento last week.
Preseason was a long time ago, so it's not surprising Shaq denied the comments. But the reporter who printed them, Scott Howard-Cooper, is well-respected and ran the entire transcript of the interview, so as to ensure that nothing would be taken out of context. Shaq himself probably didn't read the whole thing, and only heard second-hand the more (potentially) inflammatory quotes that were taken out of it. Once Shaq realized who the journalist was (Cooper is someone Shaq knows well), he seemed to be either surprised, or struck by the memory of sitting down with him for the interview.
"Oh, that's who said that (expletive)? Scott (Howard-Cooper)? I didn't know it was Scott."
The Lakers head to Phoenix for a big game against the Suns. Phoenix is 8-4 on the season, and will be at (almost) full strength tonight for the first time in a while. The team had to deal with suspensions issued to Steve Nash and Matt Barnes for their involvement in the altercation with the Rockets last week, then had to play the second half of Sunday's game against the Pistons without Shaq after he was ejected for a hard foul on Rodney Stuckey. The Lakers come in at 8-1, after bouncing back nicely with an almost harmonious win at home over the Bulls. This will be the first time we get to see Shaq take on Andrew Bynum since O'Neal was with the Heat in 2006, when they famously had this exchange that resulted in technical fouls for both players.