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Foul calls: Just another day in the life of Kobe, Shaq and Dwight Howard

Lakers Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal sit on the bench with foul trouble

(Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

You often hear how clashing egos have trouble co-existing in professional sports, how some athletes have trouble dealing with each other because their alpha male status is threatened by a teammate or two.

Hey, it happens. And one of the best examples was the never-ending saga of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers. Those guys were always sniping at each other, blaming whatever problems those great teams, which won three consecutive NBA titles, had on each other’s perceived shortcomings.

It was kind of funny, actually; two grown men acting like petulant children, stomping their feet and whining.

It had appeared as if the two were getting along better in retirement. But in late July, Kobe was appearing at a convention in Las Vegas when the subject of Shaq came up.

Bryant said the Lakers could have won “f—–g 12 rings” had O’Neal been more focused and spent more time working out than speaking out.

“He’d be the greatest of all time, for sure,” said Bryant. “He’d be the first to tell you that. This guy was a force like I have never seen. It was crazy. A guy at that size, generally guys at that size are a little timid and they don’t want to be tall, they don’t want to be big.

“Man, this dude was, he did not care. He was mean. He was nasty. He was competitive. He was vindictive. He was. …yeah, I wish he was in the gym. I would have had f—ing 12 rings.”

If you take the quote in its entirety, Kobe is actually praising O’Neal for what he brought to the team. The last part about the 12 rings was just some truth serum about what could have been had things worked out a little differently. No big deal.

Bryant says he and Shaq are cool, that he meant no disrespect with the comment. And frankly, the comment might have lived a short life had it not been posted by lakers24ever on Instagram.

But when it all became public, you knew O’Neal would not be able to control the urge to respond. And he did with his own zinger.

“U woulda had twelve if you passed the ball more, especially in the finals against the pistons #facts,” O’Neal commented.

“You don’t get statues by not working hard”

Bryant won five titles with the Lakers until he retired in 2015. He and O’Neal played together in LA from 1996-2004 before O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat. The two formed one of the greatest inside-out combinations in NBA history.  This should have been a Wilt Chamberlain-Jerry West story.

Dwight Howard

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

But a funny thing happened on the way to this conflict resolution. O’Neal took advantage of the byplay to take a few more shots at center Dwight Howard, who will play for the Lakers this season.

It seems Shaq is still a bit upset with Howard for kidnapping the Superman persona O’Neal popularized during his early days with the Orlando Magic. You might remember Howard playing the role of the Man of Steel during the NBA’s Dunk Contest in 2008. Shaq was not very happy about that.

Howard claims he didn’t see O’Neal’s tweet and that all he is doing is preparing for the 2019-20 season. But you can bet he’s been told about it.

You know Howard is clued in because this was not the first time O’Neal has spanked him in public. In fact, Shaq takes every opportunity he can to smudge Howard’s reputation since the two fell out of favor.

Since Shaq has a full-time gig on TNT’s NBA coverage, he has a great forum to pick Howard apart for his shortcomings, especially since Howard’s career hasn’t quite turned out the way many expected it would when the Magic took the high school phenom with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft.

Shaq recently told TMZ he had no idea who Howard was when he was asked about him returning to the Lakers. Consider this all just another humorous chapter in the boys-will-be-boys world of the NBA. No harm, no foul.