Kobe critical of Shaq's leadership

Updated: October 28, 2003, 4:04 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The transcript of Kobe Bryant's interview withESPN's Jim Gray:

GRAY: What was your reaction to Shaq saying the Lakers are his team, and everybody knows it?

BRYANT: It doesn't matter whose team it is. Nobody cares. I don't, Karl [Malone] doesn't, Gary [Payton] doesn't, and our teammates and the fans don't either. There's more to life than whose team this is. But this is his team, so it's time for him to act like it. That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape, when your team is relying on your leadership on and off the court. It also means no more blaming others for our team's failure, or blaming staff members for not overdramatizing your injuries so that you avoid blame for your lack of conditioning. Also, "my team" doesn't mean only when we win; it means carrying the burden of defeat just as gracefully as you carry a championship trophy.

GRAY: Do you consider Shaq to be a leader?

BRYANT: Leaders don't beg for a contract extension and negotiate some 30 million [dollars] plus per year deal in the media when we have two future Hall of Famers playing here pretty much for free. A leader would not demand the ball every time down the floor when you have the three of us [Malone, Payton, Bryant] playing beside you, not to mention the teammates you have gone to war with for years -- and, by the way, then threaten not to play defense and rebound if you don't get the ball every time down the floor.

GRAY: Shaq says that you have not been a team player. Is he right?

BRYANT: That's ridiculous. I have been successfully sacrificing my game for years for Shaq. That's what Phil [Jackson] wanted me to do, so I did it. Last year Phil told me Shaq was not in physical condition to carry the trust of our offense, so he asked me to do it. But then he saw Shaq was getting upset that the team wasn't running through him, so Phil asked me to pull back and I did. This year is no different; my role is whatever Phil wants it to be. Period.

GRAY: Through out the preseason, your leg and conditioning has been lagging. Are you in the proper shape to start the season?

BRYANT: My knee is not strong enough to play yet. I know it. When it is I will play.

GRAY: Does that mean you will miss the opener [Tuesday] night and other games?

BRYANT: I probably won't play tomorrow night or until I'm ready. But I don't need Shaq's advice on how to play hurt. I've played with IVs before, during and after games. I've played with a broken hand, a sprained ankle, a torn shoulder, a fractured tooth, a severed lip, and a knee the size of a softball. I don't miss 15 games because of a toe injury that everybody knows wasn't that serious in the first place.

GRAY: Kobe, Shaq said if you didn't like what he had to say you can opt out and leave next season. Will you leave the Lakers?

BRYANT: I won't make that decision until the end of the season. I told Shaq last year that I was planning on opting out. He knew before anyone. I told him out of respect for what we have been through together. I thought he should be the first to know. The fact that he acts like this is such a big shock is a mystery to me. If leaving the Lakers at the end of the season is what I decide, a major reason for that will be Shaq's childlike selfishness and jealousy.

GRAY: Do you feel Shaq has been supportive in regards to your legal situation?

BRYANT: He is not my quote unquote "big brother." A big brother would have called to lend his support this summer. I heard absolutely nothing from him. I spoke to Devean [George], Rick [Fox], Mitch [Kupchak], Phil, and our owner Jerry Buss. And Shaq's own Uncle Jerome called and left three messages. Other teammates like Derek [Fisher], Mark [Madsen], and [Stanislav Medvedenko] left messages as well. Opponents called like [Chris] Webber, [Mike] Bibby, and many others. So did a lot of coaches. Michael Jordan, who didn't have my home phone, tracked it down to lend his support. So did Tiger Woods. But yet from my so-called big brother, I heard nothing.

GRAY: Why not resolve this behind closed doors? Why is this so public?

BRYANT: I asked Phil on Sunday [yesterday] to say something to calm this situation down before it boiled over. But he backed away, so now here we are. I have been a bigger person every time something happened with Shaq, and I don't expect this to be any different. But somebody in this organization had to speak up, because his unprofessionalism hurt us last year, and I don't want it to hurt us this year.

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