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NBA

Kobe rips Shaq, likely out tonight

By wire services
Published October 28, 2003

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Kobe Bryant lashed out again at teammate Shaquille O'Neal and said he probably will miss the Los Angeles Lakers' opener tonight against Dallas.

"My knee is not strong enough to play yet. I know it. When it is, I will play," Bryant told ESPN by phone Monday. "I probably won't play (tonight) or until I'm ready."

Bryant, coming back from offseason knee surgery, and O'Neal traded barbs through reporters over the weekend. Neither spoke with reporters after Monday's practice, although Bryant did a telephone interview with ESPN.

The Lakers guard said he didn't need his center's advice on how to play hurt.

"I've played with IVs before, during and after games. I've played with a broken hand, a sprained ankle, a torn shoulder, a fractured tooth, a severed lip and a knee the size of a softball," Bryant said.

"I don't miss 15 games because of a toe injury that everybody knows wasn't that serious in the first place."

O'Neal was hampered by an arthritic right big toe in the 2001-02 season and had surgery Sept. 11, 2002. He missed the first 12 games of last season - nine of them losses.

Bryant had knee surgeryJuly 1 in Colorado.

He faces trial on a charge of sexual assault that allegedly occurred the night before his operation. He has acknowledged having sex with a 19-year-old resort worker, but he claimed it was consensual.

The latest in a series of feuds flared up over the weekend when O'Neal said Bryant needs to be more of a team player based on Bryant's play in two preseason games. Bryant responded by saying he didn't need O'Neal's advice.

Bryant has said he intends to opt out of his contract after this season, which would allow him to become a free agent. O'Neal said that's fine with him since it's his team, anyway.

"It doesn't matter whose team it is. But this is his team, so it's time for him to act like it," Bryant told ESPN. "That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape, when your team is relying on your leadership.

"It also means no more blaming others for our team's failure, or blaming staff members for not overdramatizing your injuries so that you avoid blame for your lack of conditioning. Also, my team doesn't mean only when we win, it means carrying the burden of defeat just as gracefully as you carry a championship trophy."

O'Neal and Bryant led the Lakers to three straight championships, but they were eliminated by San Antonio in the Western semifinals in May.

Coach Phil Jackson and first-year Lakers Karl Malone and Gary Payton spoke at length after Monday's practice. There was no mention of the possibility that Bryant wouldn't play in the opener. Malone and Payton spoke to the team at practice, and each said Bryant and O'Neal were getting along fine.

Bryant questioned O'Neal's leadership on ESPN: "Leaders don't beg for a contract extension and negotiate some $30-million-plus per year deal in the media when we have two future Hall of Famers playing here pretty much for free."

Bryant says if he leaves the Lakers when his contract is up, "a major reason for that will be Shaq's childlike selfishness and jealousy." He added that O'Neal has not been supportive during his legal situation.

"He is not my quote unquote "big brother,' " Bryant said. "A big brother would have called to lend his support this summer. I heard absolutely nothing from him. I spoke to Devon (George), Rick (Fox), Mitch (Kupchak), Phil, and our owner Jerry Buss. And Shaq's own uncle Jerome called and left three messages. ... Opponents called like (Chris) Webber, (Mike) Bibby and many others. ... Michael Jordan, who didn't have my home phone, tracked it down to lend his support. So did Tiger Woods. But yet from my so-called big brother, I heard nothing."

- Information from ESPN.com was used in the report.


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