The easiest class I ever took in college was called "The Beatles: Their Music and Their Times." The four-unit class dealt with every minute detail of The Beatles' history, and to this day the most important lesson I learned from that class came as the professor handed out the syllabus on the first day.
"Don't think just because you read George Harrison's autobiography or watched The Beatles Anthology that you know everything," he said. "The Beatles are probably their own worst historians. You think they actually remember everything they did? They probably couldn't tell you what they did last week, let alone 40 years ago. Their recollection of what happened is whatever they make of it today and most of the time it simply isn't true."
I couldn't help but think of that message when I read Shaquille O'Neal's comments about Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson this week leading up to Thursday night's game between the Lakers and Suns in Phoenix.
O'Neal claimed he never had trouble with Bryant while they played together in Los Angeles; he blamed whatever tension they had on Jackson.
"I swear to God we never had a problem," O'Neal told the Sacramento Bee. "I think it was all designed by Phil because, if you think about it, Phil never called us into the office and said, 'Both of you, shut the (heck) up.' Never did that in four years. He knew that when I read something, I was going to get upset. And he knew Kobe was going to always come out and play hard. So I think it was all done by design."
That's some amazing revisionist history considering how much O'Neal despised Bryant and vice versa during their well-documented feud in Los Angeles. Granted, Jackson probably could have done more to ease the tension but anyone who covered the Lakers during those soap opera days remembers the verbal salvos they launched at one another.
There was the time Bryant called O'Neal "fat" and "out of shape" and questioned his leadership, to which O'Neal responded by saying Bryant "wasn't a team player" and if he didn't want to be on O'Neal's team he could leave. Then there was the time Bryant, while being questioned by police following rape allegations, stated that he should have paid off his women like O'Neal so that they wouldn't say anything. O'Neal denied the claims, saying that he "[wasn't] the one buying love, [Bryant was] the one buying love", which was a reference to Bryant buying a multi-million dollar diamond ring for his wife, Vanessa, after admitting he had been unfaithful to her. Oh, and let us not forget the first few games between the Lakers and Heat after O'Neal was traded to Miami, when neither would acknowledge each other, on or off the court, except for the time O'Neal referred to Bryant as a "Corvette" and himself as a "brick wall."
The two have seemingly mended their differences in the past couple years, embracing each other before a January 2006 game at the behest of Bill Russell. Yet, one week after the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals, O'Neal took it upon himself to gloat in a now infamous rap, asking Bryant how his backside tasted and singing, "Kobe, you can't do it without me … I'm a horse, Kobe ratted me out, that's why I'm getting a divorce."
It's a shame at this point in O'Neal's incredible career that he's been reduced to this, desperately bringing up Bryant's name whenever he can in order to get some more attention. It's almost like Jose Canseco bad-mouthing Mark McGwire for the past three years and finally, when no one cares anymore, suddenly changing his tune and saying how much he respects and admires him just so he can squeeze one more headline out of the feud.
The fact that O'Neal would even entertain the idea of returning to the Lakers in two years to ride the bench and play second fiddle to Bryant shows how far O'Neal's star has fallen since he won the NBA championship in 2006. At this point in his career, O'Neal simply needs to be quiet, limp through the last two years of his contract in Phoenix and keep his legacy intact without further tarnishing it by rehashing old news.
Bryant, for his part, hasn't given O'Neal any ammunition in the feud since the two parted ways, generally complimenting his former teammate and shrugging off questions about the past. Even this week, after O'Neal's interesting interpretation of their apparently nonexistent feud, Bryant smiled and said, "You're not getting anything out of me but plain vanilla. I'm not saying anything. I learned from my man Tiger. My mouth is locked."
That's a lesson O'Neal would do well to follow, too.