Shaquille O’Neal vs Kobe Bryant: Which Lakers Legend is Better?

Published 12/14/2021, 7:30 PM EST
Lakers Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal sit on the bench with foul trouble against the Timberwolves in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals at Staples Center Monday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

It’s impossible to talk about the Los Angeles Lakers and their history without mentioning Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The two icons gave the franchise a three-peat, bringing back the title to LA after 12 years in 2000. Despite the team efforts made by both the players, fans and experts have continually compared the two.


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Of course, comparison paves the way for a common debate–which Lakers legend is actually better?


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Was Kobe Bryant better than Shaq?

After years of playing together in the NBA, O’Neal, and Bryant have had different career graphs. While Bryant stuck with the Lakers for his entire career, O’Neal has played for five other NBA teams. Irrespective of the path they chose, Bryant and O’Neal’s influence on the basketball world itself cannot be ignored.

That being said, their careers alone cannot confirm which player was better–with or away from the Lakers.

While with the Lakers (1996-2004), O’Neal averaged 26.2 points per game. Bryant, who was drafted in 1996, averaged 21.6 points per game over the same years. While Bryant’s average is much lower, he played only 15.5 minutes per game during his rookie year. The late five-time NBA champion was a different player back then, no one predicting his improvement over the years.

–Lakers Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant celebrate after defeating the 76ers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Philadelphia Wednesday June 13, 2001. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

When comparing other aspects including defense and impact, both players have points that put them over the other. O’Neal averaged more blocks, and Bryant averaged more steals, just a small indication that their defensive strengths lay in different places.

Additionally, O’Neal has won four titles, while Bryant has won five. Even though O’Neal was with another team, the two took some time to win a title after the three-peat.

Did their performance improve with time?

Bryant just got better with time, while O’Neal stepped up his game by the Phil Jackson stepped in as coach.

Impact-wise, both of them could bring ahead concrete points. Bryant, at this point, remains one of the most influential players the world has seen. O’Neal, simply with the way he conducted himself on the court, has changed and revolutionized the game.

Lakers Kobe Bryant bumps chests with Shaquille O’Neal after O’Neal got fouled scoring in the first half during the First Round of the Western Conference Playoffs at Staples Center Sunday April 21, 2002.Trailblazer Damon Stoudamire looks on from the left. Lakers won 95–87. (Photo by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The three-peat

What might actually set the two apart for much might be the actual three-peat. Shaq, to most, was what led them to the titles. Not Bryant. Even if that could be true, the two needed each other during their campaigns. If Bryant was the trustworthy presence on the court, O’Neal was one who made sure the Lakers executed what they planned to do to win. Let’s take a look at stats for the seasons, comparing the two Laker stars.














Are Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe related?

O’Neal and Bryant are not blood-related. Despite the two of them developing a cordial relationship over the years, the two of them only shared a professional relationship while playing with the Lakers.

Did Shaq slap Kobe Bryant?

With their amazing performance, the Lakers duo is also remembered for their feud.

(GERMANY OUT) Shaquille O’Neal Basketballspieler Miami Heat; USA: neben Kobe Bryant (l., Los Angeles Lakers) (Photo by Pressefoto Ulmerullstein bild via Getty Images)

A part of that widely discussed feud was O’Neal slapping Bryant during the team’s 1998 NBA lockout. Definitely, in the early stages of the aforementioned feud, the incident happened in LA itself as they argued over foul calls. As others looked to separate them, Bryant cursed at O’Neal. The four-time NBA champion ended up charging at Bryant, slapping him.


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“His hands are huge,” said Corie Blount. “The noise was loud.”

Later, Bryant admitted that it did help their relation on the court, which in turn helped the team.

Having said that, one cannot overlook the effect both had on the league. Years after their careers, fans look at them as an example, referring to them as a legendary duo.


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Which player do you think is better? Was Bryant indeed a better Laker?

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Devika Pawar is a Golf and NBA writer at Essentially Sports. A psychology graduate from KJ Somaiya, Devika has an experience with sportswriting at Republic World for around two years now. She loves NBA a little too much, and is a dedicated Golden State Warriors fan.