PHOENIX – Suns center Shaquille O’Neal barely had his voice Friday but had no problem talking about Kobe Bryant for much of his half-hour session with the media. He sat up in the front row for the Western Conference’s team meeting and pontificated about the “great Phil Jackson” and Bryant as the best player in the game.
Bryant missed the team meeting and did not participate in the Western Conference All-Stars media session, showing up 45 minutes late and talking as the East stars conducted their interviews.
The feud may be three years dead but O’Neal and Bryant still could not be more different. This weekend the pairing O’Neal calls the greatest “little-, big-man duo” in NBA history reunite as teammates for the first time since the 2004 NBA Finals with Jackson as their coach again.
O’Neal has revised history to say that the stars’ ongoing feud was all marketing, broken up only by a financial decision when the Lakers gave Bryant a maximum contract after the 2004 Finals loss and O’Neal saying he “read in the paper one day that they were going to drop my number and I had to take care of business.”
“If I could go back in time, that last year that we lost, I would have talked a little bit more smack,” said O’Neal, who won three consecutive titles (2000-2002) with Bryant.
Bryant wanted nothing to do with the O’Neal topic, saying “it wasn’t a fun time for me so I’m not about to revisit it.”
O’Neal was more willing, saying he and Bryant often communicate by calls or text messages even after he skewered Bryant in a freestyle rap last summer.
O’Neal said they never had problems in practices or games, attributing much of the back-and-forth media warfare to the planning of “the powers that be, including me.”
“It was a duo that is still talked about to this day and I haven’t played with him four to five years so my marketing worked,” O’Neal said.
Jackson said he will play lineups Sunday pairing Bryant, a fans’ choice to start, and O’Neal, a reserve by coaches’ choice.
NBA ALL-STAR GAME
Saturday: Slam dunk, 3-point and skills competitions TV: 6 p.m., TNT
Sunday: All-Star game, US Airways Center in Phoenix TV: 6 p.m., TNT
> More All-Star coverage, page 5C