Onetime teammates and sometimes feuding rivals Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal teamed up again on Sunday to lead the Western Conference to victory in the National Basketball Association All-Star Game.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Bryant made a storming start and finished with 27 points as the West dominated the Eastern Conference 146-119 in the mid-season showcase.
Phoenix Suns center O’Neal had 17 points and five rebounds as the duo were named co-Most Valuable Players.
“Those two guys together are a deadly combination,” Eastern Conference coach Mike Brown said. “If they had stayed together, there is no telling how many rings they would have had for their fingers and toes.”
Bryant captured his third MVP award at the event, teaming up with former Lakers teammate O’Neal and coach Phil Jackson for the first time since June 2004, when they fell to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.
Prior to that, Kobe and Shaq led Los Angeles to three titles at the start of the decade, forming one of the most potent duos in NBA history.
“It felt like old times,” O’Neal said. “I miss those old times. He was really looking for me and especially when we went to the pick-and-roll and they had Rashard Lewis on me. He was really looking for me.”
The Kobe-Shaq partnership was also marked by well-publicized feuds, but the pair appeared to have buried the hatchet as they jokingly fought over the MVP trophy before raising it in unison.
“It was fun to interact,” Bryant said. “We were just having fun. In terms of being nostalgic, we are not going to the room and watch Steel Magnolias together. We had a good time, that’s all.”
Bryant, the reigning NBA MVP, set the tone by scoring 11 points on five-of-10 shooting in the first quarter, when his shot total fell two shy of the record for the All-Star Game.
O’Neal provided a host of highlights, starting with an impromptu dance with hip-hop group JabbaWockeeZ during pre-game introductions.
“I wanted to do something a little bit different and unique,” Shaq said. “They are the best dance crew out there, so I just wanted to do something different. I realize that this might be my last [All-Star Game], so I wanted to make it memorable for myself and the fans.”
O’Neal made his mark on court quickly, a fact noted by Western Conference coach Jackson.
“That’s the first time I have seen an MVP that played just 11 minutes in an All-Star game,” Jackson said. “But he really had an impact on the game, there is no doubt about that.”
The West set the stage for the victory early, ending the first quarter with a 34-27 advantage.
Amare Stoudemire scored 19 points and Chris Paul added 14 and 14 assists, while Tony Parker also chipped in 14 points.
Cleveland’s LeBron James, a two-time All-Star MVP, scored 20 points for the East, who had a significant size disadvantage and were outrebounded 51-38.