Jerry West’s recently released autobiography suggests that if he hadn’t retired as Lakers general manager in 2000, perhaps the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant dynasty would have remained intact.
After West stepped down, the superstars’ feud reached a feverish pitch.
They attacked each other through the media, Bryant calling O’Neal fat and out of shape and O’Neal retaliating with bitter jabs at his teammate. At the end of the 2004 season, O’Neal was traded to Miami.
West watched it all unfold and wondered if things could have played out differently.
“When the tension between Shaquille and Kobe appeared to be at its worst, I recall thinking that this is what I would have done: I would have appealed to both of them and said, 'Hey, this does not make either of you look good,' " West wrote in his autobiography, “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life.”
“I would have spoken with both of them individually and then in a room together. I would have bluntly asked them, ‘What are you trying to accomplish here? Tell me what the hell it is?' "
Before his final season with the team, O’Neal, feeling frustrated and underappreciated, publicly lashed out against Lakers owner Jerry Buss in hopes of getting a lucrative contract extension. It was during an exhibition game in Honolulu. Shaq blocked a shot then screamed at Buss, “Now you gonna pay me?”
West thinks he could have stopped that from happening. O’Neal agrees.
“Had I still been with the Lakers, I would like to believe I could have prevented Shaquille from publicly antagonizing Jerry Buss to the degree that he had. I would have told him that if someone is paying you $120 million, you can’t denigrate him like that in the press. If I could have done that, there is a good chance that Shaquille wouldn’t have left the Lakers after the 2004 season. But I don’t know that for sure, much as Mitch and others, including Shaquille (who continues to insist that if I had still been there, he would have still been there), seem to think otherwise.”
In an interview on Wednesday at ESPN ZONE in downtown Los Angeles, West said he doesn't have any regrets about leaving the Lakers.
"It was really time for me to go," he said. "I had gotten to the point where I couldn't watch a game -- just miserable."
However, it definitely makes you wonder: If West had stayed with the Lakers, would O’Neal have stayed as well? And if so, how many championships could the Lakers have won?