Shaq: 'I always did love Kobe'

Shaquille O'Neal, the newly minted All-Star for the Western Conference, has claimed Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson as new allies, saying the longtime rivalry between himself and the Lakers forward was simply a marketing gimmick.

"We helped you hype it up," the Suns center said late Thursday night in an interview with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. "I know what I'm doing, brother. I'm the smartest player in the world."

O'Neal and Bryant have shared an off-the-court history of bickering through the media that was fueled during O'Neal's last season with the Lakers in 2004, when the duo jockeyed for position as the franchise's next cornerstone.

O'Neal said Thursday the feud with Bryant was nothing more than fodder for driving revenue.

"I always did love Kobe," O'Neal said. "It was all marketing."

O'Neal, 36, has said Jackson didn't help quell the drama, failing to bring the two together and perhaps even designing some of the conflict. His take was considerably different after a 114-104 loss to the Spurs on Thursday night.

"He's the greatest coach ever." O'Neal said. "And he's done a lot for me. Phil's my guy. It's all marketing, baby."

O'Neal went so far as to stump for Bryant, who has helped lead the Lakers (36-9) to the best record in the West.

"He's probably the MVP this year," O'Neal said. "You know, he's a monster."

Bryant, averaging 26.6 points entering Friday, ranks third in the NBA in scoring behind Dwyane Wade at 28.5 and LeBron James at 27.8.

"I'm not comparing, I'm just saying that young man is a beast," O'Neal said of Bryant. "We all know he is a beast. LeBron is a beast also, but [Bryant's] playing excellent ball right now, he's got his team playing well. He's leading by example."

O'Neal said if he had stayed with the Lakers, the duo would have won another three or four NBA championships on top of their three titles from 2000 to 2002.

"We're still the greatest little-man, big-man 1-2 punch ever created in the history of the game," O'Neal said. "And hopefully we can get a couple of glimpses of what we used to do. But it's going to be fun."

O'Neal, averaging 18 points and nine rebounds, joined Bryant on the West's roster for this year's All-Star Game on Thursday night as a reserve. It will be his 15th All-Star appearance. The All-Star Game is Feb. 15 in Phoenix.

"It's going to bring back great memories," O'Neal said. "[That] weekend is all about having fun, so we're going to have fun, they're probably going to be a couple of give-and-goes, and bring back old memories."

O'Neal said he looks back fondly on his run with the Lakers.

"It's always all about good thoughts," O'Neal said. "Everything that happened there happened for a reason. And I'm going to tell you why: It's all about winning. We won three out of four. Can't beat that, so nothing else matters."