So I have a confession to make. Despite my rational logical appearance, I too can be an irrational and illogical sports fan. There's no bigger evidence of this than my full-fledged card carrying membership of the Kobe Bryant Haters Foundation. Now, I'm not so much of a hater that I don't realize Kobe's greatness. He's one of the greatest basketball players of all time. A legend. But Kobe Hater I am nonetheless.
That being said, when I read earlier today that the Los Angeles Lakers were going to retire Shaquille O'Neal's number 34 tonight, my immediate thought was...Man, the Lakers sure made the right pick in choosing Kobe over Shaq.
In 2004, when a Kobe - Shaq divorce seemed more certain than a Kim Kardashian - Kris Humphries divorce, I was firmly on team Shaq. "How can the Lakers trade away one of the greatest centers of all time for this brat who's been riding Shaq's coattail for the past 3 years?" That was me back then. But the me of 2013? I totally understand now.
Despite the success they achieved together. Despite all the further successes they were destined for. One of them had to go. They hated playing with each other. Shaq hated that Kobe wanted to be the man. And Kobe hated that Shaq didn't take the game seriously enough. Shaq would come into training camp out of shape. This infuriated Kobe. And rightfully so.
Shaq would routinely refer to Kobe as his "little brother". And this is where something had to give. Kobe is no one's little brother. He's an alpha dog. He needed space to grow into the legend he is today. He knew it then. The Lakers knew it. And Shaq had to know it too.
So what's a franchise to do? Do you select your Hall of Fame center who doesn't commit himself to conditioning in the offseason? Or do you pick the young gun workaholic who has another decade of dominating the league ahead of him?
Obviously you take Kobe. You thank Shaq for all he's done and promise him that one day he'll be raised to the rafters with the other Lakers greats. And tonight the Lakers will do just that. One day, Kobe's number 24 (or number 8) will be raised right alongside Shaq's. Not as his little brother. But as his equal.