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Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

SPORTS SCOPE

Kobe-Shaq feud good theater, but really no big deal


A tempest in a teapot. That's the way I see it.

Jack Gallagher

The Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal bust-up has garnered considerable attention the past few days as the level of vitriol in the ongoing feud between these two superstars of the Los Angeles Lakers has risen to even new levels.

The whole tiff kind of reminded me of high-jump competition with only two finalists remaining. Back and forth they go, where they stop nobody knows.

As media shuffled back and forth between the pair, playing "Can you top this?," I was struck by all the fuss it created.

Sure it was titillating stuff, two big names verbally tearing into each other, but at the end of the day, I have to hand it to both of them for not being insincere.

Too often in life we are asked to turn the other cheek, for whatever reason, and because of this differences fester and just get worse. Let's face it, sometimes a big blowup like this can get problems out in the open where they can be addressed and resolved.

We have all had differences with colleagues, friends and family over the years, just like Kobe and Shaq are having now. What is different about this is that it is taking place in the glare of the national and international media spotlight.

Imagine for a second if everything you said in a dispute was magnified to this degree. It would be quite easy to come across as mean-spirited and foolish, or both.

Most of us have to rein ourselves in pretty quickly to try and maintain harmony in our lives.

But it's different with Kobe and Shaq, because of their tax bracket. When you are pulling in the kind of money these guys are, on guaranteed contracts, you have a tendency to let it all hang out.

Remember, too, that they are professional athletes who have been trained not to back down from a confrontation.

When you play the game at the level these guys do, you don't want to be the first one to back down. No player in any pro sport wants to look like they have been intimidated, especially by a teammate.

Eventually, cooler heads will prevail and Kobe and Shaq will realize that, for the benefit of the team, they are going to have to call it off. A blowup can be good, but then you have to let it be, otherwise it will take up too much negative energy and detract from the job at hand.

There have been many successful tandems in sports over the years that have excelled despite privately detesting each other.

Willie Mays and Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants come to mind. These two Hall of Famers played together for 13 years, but could never mesh socially.

I remember chuckling a couple of years ago while reading a story from spring training in Arizona, where Mays was asked about why McCovey wasn't there watching and helping the Giants' young players.

Said Mays: "I don't know. I think I'll call him up and find out what his problem is."

Yes, even the passing of time and the wisdom of age can't heal some rifts.

Joe Montana and Steve Young on the San Francisco 49ers, one in the Hall of Fame the other headed there, are another example of great athletes on the same team who just couldn't get along.

These guys won five Super Bowls between them, and played together for six seasons, but didn't have the time of day for each other.

I think these disputes erupt because these larger than life athletes are too much alike. In pursuit of the same goals of winning, fame and wealth, they often find the path obstructed by a teammate who wants the very same things they do and don't like it.

The truly great ones find a way around these obstacles and learn how to co-exist.



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