This Day In Sports: The pairing that produced a 3-peat

July 11, 1996: L.A. Lakers general manager Jerry West pulls the first of two coups that set the table for three straight NBA championships at the turn of the century. West traded Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the draft rights to a Philadelphia high school phenom named Kobe Bryant. The next week, West would sign Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent from the Orlando Magic, completing the genesis for the Lakers title teams in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

From the start, though, it was evident that Bryant and O’Neal had divergent personalities. Kobe was serious and confident, while Shaq was goofy but envious. Two years into their eight-season coexistence, Bryant and O’Neal got in a fight during a pickup game. The Lakers went through two coaches who tried to manage them, Del Harris and Kurt Rambis, and Shaq thought both favored Kobe and felt the youngster was selfish, while the truth was each was hungry to win a championship. They just went about it in different ways.

Then in 1999, the Lakers brought in former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, who read the room and decided O’Neal was the one who needed some nurturing and developed a strong relationship with him. Shaq and Kobe got along reasonably well and often played spectacularly together, but as the Lakers embarked on their three-peat, O’Neal consistently criticized Bryant while pointing to himself as the reason for the team’s success.

Bryant and O’Neal made the NBA Finals together again in 2004. But there was always a debate over whose team the Lakers were—especially between the two superstars. And the answer was Kobe’s after Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat that summer. At the same time, Bryant re-signed with the Lakers as a free agent. Jackson, who had twice guided the Chicago Bulls to NBA three-peats, was the coach that tried to keep peace in the valley and couldn’t in the end. Jackson would lead the Lakers to two more titles in 2009 and 2010 with Bryant.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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