What was deciding factor to stay with the Lakers?
Bryant: I wanted to be a Laker. I've been a Laker fan forever. It had nothing to do with the name on the back of the jersey. The name on the front matters to me. In my heart, I wanted to be a Laker. It was the right thing to do.
What does it feel like not to be a Laker?
O'Neal: What does it feel like? I said at the end of the year I wanted to be on a team. This is a team. Doesn't matter which team, just wanted to be on a team. I wanted things to go right. I wanted things to go like they were supposed to go and if they were not going to go like that, I wanted to be traded. Usually when something happens, like the firing of a coach, I would know about it. But I woke up and Phil Jackson was fired as Lakers coach. So I call the offices and hear it's true.
Nobody told you Phil ...
O'Neal: Nobody told me that Phil Jackson was going to be fired. When they got rid of Phil, I was very upset. I knew they were going to make changes, like I said changes that I didn't want to be a part of.
Kobe, Phil left the organization and Shaq, perception is that you were at the controls. How much did you have to do with both of their departures?
Bryant: Oh, zero, nothing. But people's perception, [they're] always going to run with the biggest story. They say, "Oh, him and Shaq didn't get along so Shaq is leaving. He's not happy there so Kobe must have run him out. Or Phil." It's not true.
Have you talked to Phil Jackson?
O'Neal: Of course I have. I love that guy to death. And yes we have arguments and quarrels, but I love that guy to death. I stand up for that guy. I believe in what he believes. Phil Jackson took us to the Finals four of five years. And the next five years if a coach takes the team to the Finals four of five years, I'll kiss his feet on "Fear Factor" with cheese on it. I will. It will never be done again.
If you were the GM would you have kept Shaq?
Bryant: Well, I would have, everybody would say the same thing, but I don't know the intricacies of the deal. Shaq had to do what was best for he and his family -- he said so after the last game he played, you know, saying this is a business [and] he's going to have to make the best decision for he and his family -- and that's what he did.
What is your opinon of Kobe as a player?
O'Neal: He's a great player. If he did the little things, he'd be the greatest player to ever play the game.
What are the little things?
O'Neal: Make other people better. He could be the greatest player ever, better than Mike, better than Shaq, better than Duncan [but] (shaking his head) I've said that many times.
What do you think of Kobe Bryant as a person?
O'Neal: Doesn't matter what I think of him as a person When I was out there on the court doing my job, I played team ball. So it doesn't matter what I thought about him off the court. What people don't understand is I don't have time to think about people off the court. I have five kids, working on my Masters. I've got to go home and do law papers, study statistics and all that stuff. I don't have time to think about him doing this and doing that. Don't have time for that.
Could it have worked out between the two of you? Could you have co-existed?
Bryant: Oh, absolutely. We have (laughs). We've had our spats, we've had our share of arguments on the floor for various reasons. He used to get mad at me for not playing team basketball. I used to get mad at him because he wasn't in tip-top shape. But we put our differences aside and went out and played. And we won and we played great in doing that, so we can co-exist. We have co-existed.
When was last time you talked to Kobe?
O'Neal: I don't know, and I don't care. I don't know.
If Kobe called you on your cell right now, what would you say?
O'Neal: I don't have a cell phone. People that I'm connected with ... all you got to do is think -- I call you. I don't have a cell phone and that's the problem with Diesel -- I'm technologically more advanced than you are. My thought process begins where the regular human apex is at.
Can you win now, with the group that's been assembled, with parts that came over for Shaq?
Bryant: I don't know. I do know it's going to be an uphill battle, and we're in the Western Conference. Teams have gotten better. Great teams from last year have gotten better, so this is a huge challenge.
What advice would you give Kobe's new teammates about him?
O'Neal: I don't have to give advice -- everything speaks for itself. Don't have to say nada, don't have to say nothing (He laughs and smiles).
Are you relieved? Was this fun or stressful?
Bryant: It was a bit of both. The reason it was stressful is because everything broke out about the trade, Phil's firing, the people blaming me for it. That made it stressful, but ultimately I'm happy to be back, happy to be playing for the Lakers and this is a happy day and I'm excited about it. But at the same time, it's a sad day because my partner in crime isn't here anymore.
Kobe and Shaq have gotten a divorce. What caused it?
O'Neal: It's just, I don't know. I just wish everybody well. A lot of people thought I'd be taking shots. No, there's time for that, but not now. I'm just happy, happy. It's a new beginning for me.
Do you ever look at Kobe and say be careful what you wish for?
O'Neal: (He grins.) Doesn't matter what I think, but you know, some people do certain things to get that power. (He nods.)
Be careful what you wish for?
O'Neal: You said it. It didn't come out of my mouth. (He zips his lips.)