Shaquille O'Neal Says Kobe Bryant Needs To Be Included In GOAT Conversation With Michael Jordan

Melissa Rohlin

Shaquille O'Neal says Kobe Bryant is sometimes erroneously left out of an important debate. 

“A lot of people always ask, ‘Who’s the greatest player in the game, [Michael] Jordan [or] LeBron [James]?’" O'Neal told Stephen A. Smith on "After the Dance" on Tuesday. "I think you must respectfully add Kobe in that conversation.”

O'Neal won three NBA championships alongside Bryant on the Lakers from 2000-2002. 

O'Neal said Bryant's mentality was very similar to Jordan's. 

“I would think it's pretty much equal," O'Neal said. "I never really spent a lot of time with Mike but, of course, watching him win a championship, watching his demeanor, and watching him wanting the ball at the last second, I would say it’s pretty equal."

Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six championships over eight seasons. Bryant led the Lakers to five titles. 

Jordan was Bryant's idol and O'Neal said he was very wise to make him his mentor. In the documentary series "The Last Dance," Bryant said Jordan was a brother to him and he wouldn't have won his five titles without him. 

"We all look at players before us and we take a little something from them," O'Neal said. "I wanted to be mean like Patrick Ewing in the post. I wanted to run the floor like David Robinson. I wanted to dominate like Wilt Chamberlain. The only difference is Kobe was able to have a telephone number and have a relationship with these guys. The rest of us, we just had to see other people emulate other people, and steal what they had. But I’m actually glad they had a relationship."

After Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, Jordan spoke at his public memorial at Staples Center on Feb. 24 and said that Bryant used to contact him at very inconvenient hours with questions. 

"He used to call me, text me, 11:30, 2:30, 3 o'clock in the morning, talking about post-up moves, footwork, and sometimes, the triangle," Jordan said. "At first, it was an aggravation. But then it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know. It's an amazing thing about passion. If you love something, if you have a strong passion for something, you would go to the extreme to try to understand or try to get it."

Jordan said that he gained a deep respect for his tenacity. 

"Kobe gave every last ounce of himself to whatever he was doing," Jordan said.