LOS ANGELES -- Just a few hours before the start of the
regular season Tuesday, all was not well in Lakerland.
Coach Phil Jackson fined Kobe Bryant an undisclosed amount for
his highly critical comments of teammate Shaquille O'Neal, and the
team met for 20 minutes to discuss a rift between two superstars
that escalated into a full-blown feud.
"There were no signs or indications that it would snowball the
way it has in a matter of 36 hours, so we'll see what happens from
here," teammate Derek Fisher said.
Bryant was not in uniform for the season-opening 109-83 victory
over the Dallas Mavericks after he said he didn't think his
surgically repaired knee was strong enough to withstand the rigors
of a 48-minute game. The Lakers had expected him to play until
hearing otherwise Monday on ESPN.
The other thing hurting Bryant was his feelings, and it appears
there's no easy way for the Lakers to soothe them.
Bryant castigated O'Neal during a telephone interview with ESPN,
calling him "childlike," "unprofessional," "selfish," "fat"
and "jealous." He also accused the 7-footer of overstating the
severity of his foot injury last season when he reported to
training camp overweight.
Bryant's comments came a day after O'Neal said the Lakers were
"my team," adding that Bryant needed to be more of a team player
-- an observation based on two exhibition games.
"We're cool. We talked this morning. He said what he said, I
said what I said. We put it behind us," Bryant said after the
Lakers' victory. "Shaq and I are going to move on, be teammates
and help this team to a fourth title."
Asked if he wanted to clarify his comments to ESPN, Bryant
replied, "I don't have anything to clarify. I'm past it."
O'Neal blamed the media for starting the controversy.
"We don't really have issues," he told TNT after the game.
"(Bryant) said something that was misconstrued and I said
something that was misconstrued and we talked about it. Right now,
we are going to play. We are just trying to win."
At practice Monday, Jackson ordered the team not to discuss the
dust-up with reporters. He fined Bryant for defying that order by
talking to ESPN later that day.
"We felt we had an agreement yesterday and he didn't uphold
that," Jackson said. "I think this is something we've asked our
players to work out on their own and in private if they have
Bryant made an appearance at the end of the third quarter,
emerging onto the court after watching the game from the players'
lounge. Bryant received a loud ovation from the sellout crowd at
Staples Center when he was shown on the scoreboard, and he began
the fourth quarter sitting next to O'Neal on the bench.
The conflict between O'Neal and Bryant has been simmering
throughout their seven seasons together, but their public potshots
have never been as personal as the most recent ones.
"My thought is to say `Kids, cut it out.' It's a guy thing. You
say this, I say that. You say that, I say this and here we go,"
commissioner David Stern told reporters in San Antonio. "Someone
has to stop it, because at bottom it distracts us from our league
and the teams."
Adding another layer of tension for the team is the publicity
brought by the sexual assault charge against Bryant.
Bryant lashed out publicly after Jackson declined to get in the
middle of the fight.
"He said: Do I want to address it, not calm it down, and I went
back to him and said it's not significant enough to comment on,"
Jackson said. "But we did have an exchange, and that's one thing I
One member of the Lakers said Tuesday morning's meeting lasted
about 20 minutes, with O'Neal and Bryant addressing the team but
not each other. The only other player to speak was Karl Malone, the
"What we tried to do was not to overkill the situation,"
Fisher said. "We all know it's there, we're aware of it, it's not
necessarily going to go away just today, so we addressed it."
Among the bombshells Bryant dropped in his comments about O'Neal
was a plan to opt out of his contract at the end of this season and
become a free agent -- something Bryant said he first discussed with
O'Neal out of respect.
"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," Bryant said.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said trading Bryant was not
an option being considered.
Players said the rift between O'Neal and Bryant wasn't
surprising -- they've feuded before. What caught them by surprise
was how quickly the feud escalated, coming to a head the day before
the season started.
"He (Bryant) definitely seemed extremely frustrated," Fisher
said. "It wasn't something that he just came up with yesterday.
But you have to respect the fact that he had some things to say in
return to Shaq. He feels like Shaq insulted him in whatever
O'Neal did not speak with reporters Tuesday, while Bryant made
no public comments until after the game.
Jackson refused to disclose details of the meeting, including
whether Bryant offered an explanation for his comments.
"We haven't had a really good example here of maturity, and
that's one of the things we've had to discuss," Jackson said.