Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has been calling for roster changes in Los Angeles. A frustrated Bryant went on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York and told Stephen A. Smith that he wants to be traded. The following is a complete transcript of their radio interview.
STEPHEN A. SMITH: Back in the house on 1050, ESPN radio. On the line with us, as promised, is the three-time world champion, arguably the best player in the league to most basketball observers, led the league in scoring this year, member of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mr. Kobe Bryant. How you doing, man?
KOBE BRYANT: What's going on, my brother?
SAS: You and I spoke obviously yesterday, had an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, obviously on ESPN today and all of this stuff. You had a lot to say, talked about Dr. Jerry Buss. Just so everybody can be informed about it, you basically elaborated on how he called a meeting with you after you spoke with Jim Gray back in 2004. Met with you at the Four Seasons Hotel. Looked you dead in the face and said, "I'm not going to re-sign Shaq, I'm not about to pay him 30 million a year, 80 million over three years, no way in hell. I feel like he is getting older, his body is breaking down. I don't want to pay that money to him when I can get value for him right now. You went on to say he said that to you and you haven't said anything for years because you've always felt like folks were just looking to create controversy. Now you know. Now you realize how folks are trying to cover themselves. I want you to elaborate on all of that and what ultimately led to you coming out and revealing this meeting with you and Dr. Buss from back years ago.
KB: When it all happened, back then, I just assumed it was just media just rolling with it. Despite people telling me the Lakers were kind of having me take a bullet for this, I tried to turn a deaf ear to that. I just re-signed, I wanted to be positive, and I had no evidence to the contrary.
When I heard this Laker insider trying to throw me out, saying I'm responsible for it, I'm not going to take that. I'm not going to settle for that. I had to step up and voice my opinion and let people know what actually went down.
SAS: Was it a situation, Kobe, where you really never believed in your wildest dreams that Shaquille O'Neal or the Los Angeles Lakers ever truly believed that you were responsible for his departure from Los Angeles? You really felt like Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers knew better and never thought that?
KB: I honestly did ... especially the Lakers because ... they knew how that situation took place. I mean, they knew what went down, they knew what they told me. And, it was extremely disappointing to hear that.
Shaquille ... I didn't think he genuinely believed that. I think the stuff that I said, was an eye-opening thing for him because I don't think he's ever heard, you know -- ever heard me say that. He and I never had an opportunity to talk. I'm not sure exactly what they told him, if they were trying to, make a scene that I was responsible for him leaving, what have you, coming to me and telling me something different.
But, I felt it was very important just to get that out there, just to tell the truth of the matter, what actually went down.
SAS: Why did you feel finally it was important for you to get it out there and tell the truth?
KB: Because if it was his media, if it was his people talking, I say, you know what, I'm going to bite the bullet on that. I can't go out there. Despite what I say, what I said, everybody wanted to believe the contrary. And now, my understanding of that is because you had Laker insiders fueling that fire, continuing to say that I was responsible for it, because they didn't want to stand up for their own decisions.
SAS: One of the things, and we're talking to Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers here, just thinking about this, I spoke to Shaquille O'Neal yesterday, as you well know, and just so people can know, this is his quote. He said, "I believe Kobe Bryant 100 percent, absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind Kobe is telling the truth. I believe him a thousand percent. I would have respected Dr. Buss more as a man if he would have told me that more himself because I know he said it. But he didn't tell me that. He never said a damn word to me."
When you learned that Shaquille O'Neal was in complete support of you and believed what you had to say, considering y'all history, how did that make you feel?
KB: It made me feel great. Made me feel, vindicated to a certain extent, you know. And it's a shame that when something like that goes down, it makes you wonder what else was going on. You know what I mean? What else were they telling him? I know what they were telling me about him. what were they telling him about me?
SAS: What were the kind of things they were saying about him? You know I'm going to ask that question.
KB: It's stuff like being out of shape, not being able to perform at a high level, not getting their money's worth out of you, things of that nature.
SAS: So these are the things that the Los Angeles Lakers as an organization was telling you about Shaq as opposed to something you were observing yourself?
KB: Right. I mean, this is -- these are the reasons why -- part of the reasons why Dr. Buss didn't want to re-sign him. Now, personally, I mean, I just -- I'm going to make my own decisions. I'm going to think for myself. I'm going to sit there and see what they say. I'm going to make my own decisions about, about a person or a situation based off of, you know -- based off my own sentiments of them.
SAS: Well, Kobe, here's the thing. We're talking to Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. With that being said, you've had some harsh remarks about Shaquille O'Neal in the past. Obviously he's had some remarks about you, as well. In light of some of the stuff you're finding out now or you feel like you found out, in light of Shaquille O'Neal's comments in support of you, I got to ask you, do you believe that the situation between y'all was a product of your personal relationship with Shaquille O' Neal and how it deteriorated or do you think it's something that might have been manufactured or manipulated to some degree by the Los Angeles Lakers in light of the things that you're saying now?
KB: Yeah, I have no doubt it was a bit of both (laughter). I have no doubt about it. Shaq and I didn't see eye to eye. He'll tell you that. I'll tell you that, too.
But at the same time, yeah, we had a certain level of respect for one another and how we performed on the floor. I don't think -- I definitely think that contributed to the media storm that we faced when we were playing in L.A.
SAS: Talking to Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. Even though he's usually sounding suave and smooth y'all, it is like 9:00 in the morning out in Los Angeles. He probably just woke up. But with that being said, Kobe --
KB: I just got finished working out actually.
SAS: You did, just got finished working out? That's probably why you're in shape. Maybe I need to get in the gym early in the morning. Maybe I got to try that.
Let me get back to something, Kobe. In light of these revelations, some of the things you're revealing, what are your feelings about the Los Angeles Lakers organization right now as we speak?
KB: Well, it's tough because, I mean, when you're with an organization for 11 years, you've been a fan of theirs growing up, you just love everything about the organization in terms of the players and the history, the fans, the city. To go through something like this is extremely difficult. Finding out about Shaq's situation, them promising me one thing in terms of wanting to rebuild right now, and telling Phil Jackson another thing. It's rough, man.
But, I just don't see how you can rebuild that trust. I just don't know how you can move forward in that type of situation.
SAS: Well, if you don't know how you can move forward that that situation, you're still under contract with them, are you saying right here on this show that you you want to be traded?
KB: Yeah, I would like to be traded, yeah.
SAS: There's no ifs, ands or buts about it?
SAS: It's not a situation, I know before you reportedly said that you would like them to get Jerry West back. Are you saying now emphatically, regardless of what they done, you want out of Los Angeles?
KB: Yeah, I would like to be traded. And as tough as it is to say that, as tough as it is to come to that conclusion, there's no other -- there's no other -- there's no other alternative, you know. They obviously want to move in a different direction in terms of rebuilding. I wish they would have told me that prior to me re-signing with the team. They obviously want to move in a different direction.
SAS: But they want to keep you though, Kobe. They want to move in a different direction, but they don't want to do it without you.
KB: You got to be up front about that, man. Three years ago when I was re-signing, they should have told me that they wanted to rebuild. Would have affected my decision. Don't tell me one thing and do another.
SAS: Is there anything that the Los Angeles Lakers could do to make you change your mind and decide that you do not want to be traded?
SAS: What about their notion that you're locked in for at least the next two years before you can actually opt out, and there's really nothing you can do about that? What do you say in response to people who say you're not going anywhere; you will stay in Los Angeles and you will be playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season?
KB: You know what, I just want them to do the right thing. Do the right thing, man. They know what they did. You know what I mean? They know the situation that they painted. You know what I mean? Do the right thing, man. Do the right thing. You know you was trying to rebuild. You told me something different. I re-signed because of what you promised me. You know the blame that you've cast upon me. You know that stuff. They know that stuff. So, just step up, do the right thing.
SAS: With that being said, since you said there's really nothing they can do, you want them to do the right thing, and the right thing in your mind is to be traded, is there a particular team that you have a preference to go to?
KB: Not really, man. At this point I'll go play on Pluto right now. You know what I mean? I just want to -- I just want to work hard, I just want to play, just enjoy the game of basketball, you know.
SAS: With that being said, Kobe, how do you feel right now about Shaquille O'Neal knowing you feel manipulated by the Los Angeles Lakers? In defense of the organization, they will say, you know what, we didn't promise Kobe anything except we would give a full-fledged effort to try and regain our status as legitimate title contenders in the league, but you can't guarantee such things, we're trying our best. That's the Lakers' position right there, Mitch, Dr. Buss, they're doing everything they can. But from your vantage point, how do you feel about Shaquille O'Neal right now? Your relationship with him was never the greatest. But in light of these new revelations, what you've learned, what are your feelings today about Shaquille O'Neal feeling the way that you feel about the Los Angeles Lakers?
KB: When I see him, I'm going to give him some (indiscernible), give him a big-ass hug.
SAS: And what would you say to him?
KB: I'm not sure. I don't know. I don't know.
SAS: Are you going to --
KB: I don't know. I just -- we had -- we had our moments, but we had a great time winning championships together. And for him to step forward and to see -- because he was here, he knows what goes on around here. I was young. The only thing I focused on was the game. He obviously kind of knew the inner workings of the organization, what was taking place. So, when he heard me say what I said, he knew exactly where I was coming from.
SAS: One of the things that amazes me about you, Kobe, I consider you to be the best player in the game. A lot of people feel that way. I know most of coaches in the league feel exactly the same way about you being that caliber of a player. But when they look at Kobe, they say to Kobe in regards to this present state of affairs with the Los Angeles Lakers, he got what he asked for, he wanted it to be his team, he wanted Shaquille O'Neal gone so he could be the man, he could be the show. This is Kobe in a situation that Kobe created for himself. What do you say in response to people who feel that way?
KB: Well, not much I can say to them. If that's what they want to say, that's what they gonna say. But I think that I could have went to a team like the Los Angeles Clippers that had a lot more talent, and a cast that -- with Elton Brad, Maggette -- soon get Mobley and Cassell, we could have been -- we probably should be playing right now. I chose to stay here because of the promises that they made in terms of building the team.
SAS: You could have went to Chicago, too.
KB: Could have went to Chicago. They had a cast of extremely talented young players. But I chose to stay here because of what they promised. Now, if I knew they weren't going to be aggressive in getting Davis, getting a Carlos Boozer, that would have changed things drastically.
But, I didn't ask for this, certainly not.
SAS: Let's be clear about something before I let you get on out of here, Kobe. With the Los Angeles Lakers, do you want to be traded because you believe that they're not going to be able to build a contender in the very near future or do you want to be traded because you feel like you've been lied to?
KB: It's both. It's both. It's all just come to a head. It's just come to a head, man. It's both of those things. Prior to hearing this Laker insider, I had spoken with Phil. We talked about -- I was telling him how I'm working out, really focusing on defense, just kind of gearing up. And, the pocket I was in was just trying to work things out, just trying to get a contender here. Then I hear this Laker insider thing. Talking with Phil, I hear what they told him what their plans were, I know what they promised me, and those are two different things.
SAS: So they promised Phil Jackson something different than what they told you?
KB: Yeah. Well, they told Phil in his exit meeting that they were scaling back. This was in '04 they told him they were scaling back, wanted to get under the cap, had a long-term plan to do that. They told me the complete opposite of that. So in learning those things, uhm --
SAS: But didn't you know what they told Phil Jackson at the time? You didn't know?
KB: No. It's funny, Phil and I never talked about the '04 season. This is '04. He and I never talked about the exit meeting. We never talked about the book. I never read the book. But with everything that was going on, I sent him an email, I said, Phil, please call me ASAP. He hit me right back and we discussed it. I told him, I said, Phil, that is completely opposite what they told me.
SAS: So how does Phil feel about the fact that -- I imagine if you're telling me that you want to be traded, and that there's nothing the Lakers can do, I imagine you've told this to coach Phil Jackson because of the respect that you have for him and the way y'all relationship has been going for the last couple of years? What has he said to you?
KB: Well, he knows how rough this is for me. Phil's the type where, he's not going to get in the way of a decision of a person. He obviously would want me to stay. He's obviously coming back for another year. He has the health concerns, the challenges that he'll deal with this off-season.
SAS: He might not want to come back if he's going to lose you, though.
KB: I don't know. I don't know. But he and I will continue to talk because we've developed a very close relationship. I admire him tremendously. He's taught me so much. That relationship will continue to grow.
SAS: If you look back on your career, whether it's with Shaquille O'Neal or in the post Shaquille O'Neal era with you or you and Phil Jackson, is there anything you would do differently?
KB: Well, I think, Shaq and I would have communicated a lot more. You know what I mean? Just talking, like going through all this stuff, just -- just he and I sitting down talking. We were both young. As you get older, you learn how to deal with things, better. When you become a parent, you learn patience, you learn understanding. I think if we could go back, I think I would love to, and I'm sure he would as well, just communicate, just he and I, just directly about things.
SAS: Shaq often said this to me. He said if Jerry West was still the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, neither of y'all would have ever parted ways. Shaq has said that to me on several occasions. How do you respond to that?
KB: I agree with that. I agree with that because Jerry West ... Jerry West is a no-nonsense guy. He's not going to deal with people and the organization being "insiders." That's not going down under his watch. It's just not happening.
SAS: Yeah, but with that being said, Kobe, you just finished saying there's absolutely nothing the Lakers could do to make you want to come back and remain with the organization. That's why I'd asked you what if Jerry West came back to the Los Angeles Lakers, even though that seems highly unlikely.
KB: Yeah, it's beyond that point. It's just beyond that point. I know who this insider is, you know what I mean? I know who it is.
SAS: So with that being said, my last question to you, I'm going to ask you one last time, is there anything the Los Angeles Lakers can do to get you to remain with the organization?
KB: No, bro.
SAS: Kobe Bryant, I appreciate your time, my man.
KB: All right, man.
SAS: Thanks a lot.
KB: You got it.