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Bryant Is Talking It Up

Shortly after Laker management tells him and O'Neal to stop speaking to the media about their feud, the All-Star guard criticizes his longtime teammate and questions his leadership.

October 28, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

"He is not my quote-unquote big brother. A big brother would have called me up over the summer."

Bryant also told ESPN that he saw this coming, and that he had asked Jackson to do something about it.

"I asked Phil on Sunday to say something to calm this situation down before it boiled over," he said. "But, he backed away, so now here we are.... Somebody in the organization had to speak up, because [O'Neal's] unprofessionalism hurt us last year and I don't want it to hurt us this year."

Laker management was said to have been disappointed with Bryant's observations. Bryant will be asked today to meet again with Kupchak about the decision to talk to ESPN so shortly after there appeared to be a team-wide agreement to avoid the subject.

Although Kupchak has promised not to trade Bryant under any circumstances, it is possible Bryant's disobedience is an attempt to force a deal. Though Bryant is out of shape, on a bum knee, expensive ($13.5 million this season) and facing charges that, if convicted, could mean life in prison, Kupchak probably would find many willing trade partners.

As for Bryant's knee, team publicist John Black said, "Our understanding is he's probably going to play. Either way, the decision's going to be made [today]."

Meanwhile, many inside the organization are beginning to sympathize with Malone and Payton, whose financial sacrifices, once a rallying cry for the players, has been lost in the hostilities.

Malone sought Monday to lead the Lakers away from the pettiness, and, hours before Bryant spoke to ESPN, said he'd achieved it.

"It's not going to continue, trust me," he said.

Although he avoided divulging many details, Malone hinted that he spoke to O'Neal and Bryant by telephone, perhaps on Sunday night, before the morning newspapers hit. He reminded them of their championship goals, he said, and he reminded them of his own decision to become a Laker, at a cost of millions of dollars.

"When you come to me for advice, I'm going to give it to you," Malone said. "That's why I don't think we'll have this anymore.... I'm really slow on imposing my wisdom up on a person, but when they call and they ask for it, I give it to them. Then we go out and handle it like professional athletes. So, when they did it, I said what I needed to say and we said what we needed to say as a team, and we're going to go from there."

Said Payton: "It's all resolved. We're talking about basketball now. That's all we're going to talk about. We're talking about basketball. We're not talking about who's saying this and who's saying that. Everything is fine here in our camp, and that's the way it's gonna be."

Despite the stormy history of their relationship, an assumption was developed that O'Neal and Bryant could manage their disdain for each other. They had won championships while hating each other, won them while putting up with each other, and all agreed that the latter was preferable.

Then, after a summer in which he had two surgeries and was charged with felony sexual assault, it was Bryant who arrived in camp in typical Shaq shape, and O'Neal who toiled in the gym. Payton and Malone arrived, Bryant skipped out on much of training camp, opening night drew near, and, in the hours before the regular season arrived, O'Neal and Bryant rediscovered their dislike for each other.

All of which left the other players, the coaching staff and team management to explain how it really wasn't all that critical to their season, and how the healing lessons of the past would help them today.

"We know as a unit that we always have to work things out, there's always things we're going to have to work out as a team, and those things we've adjusted to over the years," Jackson said. "This year, we didn't anticipate it starting before the season began, but we're ready to deal with it and it's probably better that it happened early than late.

"All four of my superstars -- my superstars, our superstars -- all four of these guys have said, 'I don't care if I score 10 points a game or not, all I want to do is win.' They've all expressed it and I believe them. I mean, that's sincerely what I believe. So, I think we have to wait and see how they play on the floor.... We're going to find out what's going to work best for us as a team.

"On certain nights, somebody's going to have to score 25 and somebody's going to have to be a passer and score 10. So, we're going to find it out as a basketball team as the season goes on. That's the intriguing thing."




*--* No. Name Yr. Ht. Wt. Comment 34 SHAQUILLE O'NEAL 12 7-1 340 He made an effort to get leaner and harder in the off-season. 31 JAMAL SAMPSON 2 6-11 235 A project, Sampson, 20, played eight minutes for the Milwaukee Bucks last season.



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