After Kobe Bryant nailed a jump shot at the top of the key in the first half, longtime teammate Derek Fisher hugged him on the way to the bench. With the jump shot that he makes all the time, Bryant passed former Laker teammate Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the all-time NBA scoring list Monday in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. With 24 points in the first half of a 95-90 loss, Bryant further separated himself from the cloud of Shaq.
Bryant and Shaq both joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996 because of the efforts of former general manager and Laker great, Jerry West. West signed Shaq when his contract with the Orlando Magic ended and traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for Bryant. West brought the two players to Los Angeles for one reason, to win championships. The dynamic duo did just that and became one of the greatest one-two punches in NBA history.
After winning three straight championships, Bryant was accused of sexual assault and tensions rose between the two players. In 2004, the quarrel reached a boiling point when the Lakers lost in the finals to the Detroit Pistons in five games. The Lakers’ front office decided to trade Shaq to the Miami Heat during the offseason and keep Bryant.
Two years later, Shaq won an NBA title with the Heat alongside budding superstar, Dwayne Wade. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the Lakers didn’t make the playoffs their first year without Shaq and couldn’t advance past the first round in the next two seasons. Critics started to say Bryant couldn’t win without Shaq.
Bryant expressed his frustration with the Lakers’ front office for not obtaining enough talent for the Lakers to win a championship. Midway through the 2007-08 season, the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies and immediately became a legitimate title contender. The Lakers advanced to the NBA finals in the 2007-08 season and Bryant won his first MVP award. Despite the improvement, the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in six games and Bryant remained one championship behind Shaq.
The following season, the Lakers stormed back to the NBA finals and defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. The 2008-09 season gave Bryant a fourth championship, which tied him with Shaq, but Bryant wanted more. Next year, the Lakers made it back to the finals where they would again face the Celtics. The Lakers won the back and forth series in seven games. During the post-game press conference, Bryant made it clear that he now had one more ring than Shaq.
As the Lakers built a championship team, the Heat traded Shaq to the Phoenix Suns for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. After failing to win a championship in Phoenix, Shaq moved on to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he hoped to win a championship alongside superstar Lebron James. However, the Cavaliers lost to the Celtics in the 2010 playoffs. Shaq wanted to try one last place to win a championship so he signed with the team he lost to in the playoffs a year either. Shaq ran into some injury problems as a Celtic and was never able to recover from it. His struggles during the 2010-11 season forced Shaq to retire after 19 seasons.
With Shaq’s retirement, Bryant won the championship battle, but this season he also passed Shaq on the all-time scoring list. After Bryant’s accomplishment, Shaq tweeted, “Congrats to Kobe for being the greatest laker ever thanks for making us the greatest laker one two punch ever and congrats on passin me up 2.”
Despite passing Shaq in two categories, Bryant isn’t finished. Whether it’s chasing Michael Jordan’s six championships or solidifying his reputation as the greatest Laker of all time, Bryant will never stop striving for greatness.