The Shaq-Kobe feud that prematurely ended the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty isn’t lost on Kyrie Irving, who is playing with an all-time great in LeBron James. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal played together eight years, winning three titles before O’Neal was shipped off to Miami in the midst of animosity between himself and Bryant.
Irving sees the potential for such a feud to develop between himself and James, who was brought back to Cleveland right after Irving was signed to a five-year, $94 million contract ahead of the 2015 season. The contract that was supposed to make the talented point guard the face of the franchise.
Obviously that didn’t happen. James is not only the face of the Cavaliers but the entire NBA at this point in his legendary career. Looking to get a firm grasp of what not to do in this situation, Irving reached out to Bryant.
“It’s a tough balance,” Irving told Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “Because everyone knows, Shaq was really dominant and [had] a lot of the individual accolades … unbelievable. And that’s who he was. And Kobe was just consistently working on his game and consistently trying to prove everyone all the time. And you got to commend somebody for that. That just shows the true testament of their will and what they’re willing to do and what they’re willing to sacrifice, but I know I don’t want to look back and say that I let my selfishness get in the way of us winning championships, because we have unbelievable talent on this team and unbelievable players, and so I don’t want to ever take that for granted.
“Whenever that time comes and it’s my time to be the leader of the franchise, then I’ll be well-prepared. But for now, I’m cool with just being — I’m very, very cool with being — a great guy on a great team.”
It must help that James is such a natural facilitator who always looks to get his teammates involved. Shaq wasn’t really that way, nor was Bryant. Both wanted to be alpha dogs, and they eventually couldn’t stop going for one another’s neck.
James is doing everything he can to groom Irving to one day take his place as the face of the franchise, and the 25-year-old point guard is soaking it all in. It’s the opposite of what happened in Los Angeles with Bryant and O’Neal.
The two are forging a beneficial relationship that has the potential to lead to multiple championships. With one already in the books, they’re about to challenge the Golden State Warriors for the third straight year for the opportunity to repeat as champs. Game 1 opens the series Thursday night in Oakland, and this NBA Finals should be something special, regardless of the outcome.