- J.A. Adande, ESPN Senior Writer
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PHOENIX -- Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant really do make the greatest tandem in NBA history.
No other duo could both overwhelm opponents and overshadow everything else, combining the basketball prowess of Magic and Kareem or Jordan and Pippen with the tabloid headlines of Brad and Angelina or Lindsay and Samantha. In an All-Star weekend teeming with trade rumors and front-office moves, Shaq and Kobe went from subplot to main story line, stealing the show with performances that won them co-Most Valuable Player awards followed by a turn at the news conference dais that ought to win an Emmy for best comedy sketch.
We've seen them dominate games before the way they did on Sunday when Bryant scored a game-high 27 points and O'Neal had 17 points in 11 minutes during the West's 146-119 victory. Maybe we just forgot after we watched Shaquille O'Neal's rap video last summer, or read certain passages of Phil Jackson's book "The Last Season," or learned the details of Kobe Bryant's statement to the Eagle, Colo., police back in 2004.
But they've never been a better comedic duo then they were Sunday afternoon as they shared the dais, playing off each other, Shaq acting silly and Kobe coming up with the funniest line of his career while trying to downplay the nostalgic feelings of their first game together since their eight-year run in Los Angeles ended in 2004.
"We are not going to go back to the room and watch 'Steel Magnolias or something like that," Bryant said.
They stopped just short of a dinner date on Sunday, high-fiving, hugging, holding hands ... I was surprised they weren't shown on the arena scoreboard's Kiss Cam during a timeout.
The third quarter was when they did get the old chemistry going, bringing back memories of the way they ran through the league for three consecutive championships.
Shaq was the star, with Bryant directing. After O'Neal checked in midway through the period, Bryant set up a play for him that resulted in a Shaq layup. Next, Shaq moved out to the wing, called out a give-and-go play with Chris Paul and got the ball back for a dunk.
Bryant immediately ran a play for Shaq inside, and Shaq dunked. They ran a pick-and-roll, Kobe missed a layup, but Shaq followed it up with a dunk. Another time down, Kobe saw Lewis on Shaq and told his center "Post his [butt] up." Shaq followed orders, Kobe gave him the ball and Shaq dunked.
In all, O'Neal scored 11 points in just under six minutes. That was enough to get him the MVP on my ballot. I thought about putting Bryant's name alongside it, but it seemed like Shaq's performance would really be the one everyone talked about Monday.
Next thing you knew, both were standing on the podium behind David Stern, handing them the trophy, with Shaq playfully trying to pull it away from him.
Of course it ended like this.
"What did you think was going to happen?" Paul said.
And if that last finishing touch seemed a little too scripted, an NBA public relations official explained that O'Neal won the media voting 5-4, and Bryant received two points for winning the fan vote and O'Neal received one point for finishing second in the fan vote, making the final tally 6-6.
Even by NBA standards, this outcome felt preordained, from the time the All-Star rosters were finalized and we knew O'Neal would join Bryant and his former Lakers coach Phil Jackson in the West. In the buildup, Bryant dreaded talking about it and O'Neal relished the chance to employ his favorite tactic "marketing."
Typical. Shot distribution wasn't the only area they differed. Shaq always emphasized entertainment and Bryant put a premium on results, a stylistic split evident in the buildup and the start to the All-Star game Sunday.
The JabbaWockeeZ danced their way into the player intros, and just when everyone was wondering if we really needed break-dancing mimes at an NBA game, out came Shaq, wearing a white mask like the other members of the group and showing some serious moves. The crowd loved it.
You will never, ever see Bryant do something like that. It's not as if he didn't have his chance. Kevin Garnett boogied a bit, and LeBron James stepped from the back row to the front of the stage to do some dancing himself. Bryant never budged, not even when the Eastern All-Stars dancingly stepped to the West starters, like the Sharks versus the Jets or a scene out of "You Got Served."
Bryant saved it for the court, coming out in attack mode, shooting 10 times in the first quarter and scoring 11 points. You could imagine Shaq turning to his Western teammates on the bench and saying, "See?" On the first pick-and-roll they ran together, O'Neal was open in the lane but Bryant opted to shoot instead.
Everything changed in the third quarter.
"Every play, we were like, 'Shaq, we're coming to you, we're coming to you,'" Brandon Roy said. "He said, 'All right, I've got about five minutes in me.'"
Shaq appeared to have a little more in store, but right when he got by Paul Pierce and started to get creative with the ball, Pierce fouled him.
Shaq, ever the embellisher: "I was getting ready to do a Vince Carter wrong-way windmill like he did in the 2000 Dunk Contest."
Kobe: "And then he woke up."
Shaq: "I was getting ready to windmill that thang."
Reality will snap back Monday, when the Suns fire Terry Porter. O'Neal's name is popping up in trade rumors as well for the cost-cutting Suns. You never know, this could be O'Neal's last time as a "home" player in USAirways Center.
"I think about it every day," Shaq said. "But I haven't talked to Steve [Kerr] about it."
It also could very well be his final All-Star Game. Thus, the dancing.
"I realized that this may possibly be my last one, so I wanted to make it memorable for myself and the fans," O'Neal said.
He did. He's the best entertainer in the league, and he and Kobe have been its best combination for more than a decade, whether they were together or on opposite ends of the country, they were always linked, always making news.
"We had a good time," Kobe acknowledged. "That's all.
"Nothing wrong with being nostalgic. It is not necessarily my cup of tea."
They sat next to each other, maybe one last time.
"They are where they are right now," East coach Mike Brown said. "But if they were to stay together, no telling how many more rings they would have had on their fingers and toes."
They probably needed to split up, for their sanity and for Bryant to test the boundaries of the game. But if Jerry Buss, Robert Sarver, or the fans with their All-Star ballots ever want to bring them together again, we can be sure there's nothing better the NBA has to offer.
6hChris Broussard and Marc Stein
53mNBA • ESPN.com