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Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Nov. 10, 2003
Nov. 10, 2003

Table of Contents
Nov. 10, 2003

Hockey
50th Anniversary
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Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Kobe thinks he wears the pants in the family, Shaq thinks that he
does. Kobe complains that Shaq doesn't call, Shaq complains that
Kobe's aloof. Kobe threatens to walk out on Shaq, Shaq tells him
to go right ahead. And so Kobe says, in a moment of cruelty, that
Shaq's butt has gotten big. Sound familiar? "It sounds like a
marriage," says Dr. Joyce Brothers. When Shaq says Kobe hogs the
ball, he might as well be talking about the covers.

This is an article from the Nov. 10, 2003 issue Original Layout

What Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant really need, if the Los
Angeles Lakers are to win another title (page 66), isn't the
Mailman. It's Dr. J. Says Dr. Joyce, "Some people are
incompatible, and the best thing for them to do is divorce. But a
really good coach might be able to stop this squabbling." Good
coach? They need a good marriage counselor. The Lakers are way
beyond Coach Phil and now require Dr. Phil, who likes to say,
"Competing can quickly turn a relationship into an ugly battle of
one-upmanship. How can you possibly be a winner if it is at the
expense of making the person you supposedly love a loser?"

This couple keeps playing "He Said, He Said," Shaq insisting he's
the Man, Kobe suggesting that he's the Man. "Constant one-upping
can be a real issue in all relationships," says Dr. Brenda
Shoshanna, a psychologist and couples counselor based in New York
City. "It goes on with parents and children, with office workers.
The Lakers need to understand that each person is a Man, working
toward a common purpose. And when that happens--when a team is
like five fingers on a hand--they will be unstoppable."

But Shaq says Kobe is selfish, and Kobe says Shaq is childish.
"Therapists call this displacement," says Audrey B. Chapman, a
family therapist in Washington, D.C., where she hosts a radio
show aimed at African-American listeners. "We displace our anger,
frustration and fear onto something else." Like the uncapped
toothpaste. Or the seat left up. Or the missed first day of
training camp in Hawaii.

"I think O'Neal is angry and frustrated with the amount of
attention Kobe has gotten lately [for his upcoming rape trial],"
says Chapman. "And while it's negative attention, it still takes
away from O'Neal, who is handling it by getting personal.
Character assassination. You see that a lot with couples that are
competitive."

When it comes to basketball, Dr. Joyce is not Dr. Jack Ramsay.
("Now, was Shaq also the coach of the Lakers?" she asks me.)
However, she does know human nature. "Both Shaq and Kobe are used
to being the moon and the sun and the stars," she says, in her
soothing purr of a voice that's familiar to audiences from 50
years of American television. "Kobe is getting an enormous amount
of publicity at the moment--not all of it good, granted--and Shaq
is used to having that. Now, he has to compete for it."

Indeed, Kobe agrees that Shaq is jealous. (Shaq says Kobe is.)
Kobe says Shaq exaggerates his own injuries. (Shaq says Kobe
won't play hurt.) The question is, Can this marriage be saved?
"These two guys are not relationship-savvy enough to stop the
cycle," says Ellen Sue Stern, author of Loving an Imperfect Man
and He Just Doesn't Get It. "This sounds to me like, 'My d---is
bigger than your d---.'"

Not literally, mind you. At least not yet. But few would be
surprised if it came to that. Says Chapman, "When you have two
massive egos like this, each would rather have his own arm
chopped off than submit to the other." That, too, could happen
this season.

For now, Kobe has told Shaq he'll walk out on the Lakers after
this season. "When that threat is in the air in a marriage, it's
very dangerous, because it creates an insecurity," says
Shoshanna, author of, appropriately enough, Why Men Leave.
"Issues of abandonment are stirred up. It says to the partner, 'I
can't count on this person, this person's not really there for
me.' It's not a good note to strike, in a relationship or on a
sports team."

So what can be done? "I would say the same to Shaq and Kobe as
I'd say to Arafat and Sharon or any other alpha males who have a
hard time dealing with these things," says Stern. "I'd say, 'What
doesn't get better does get worse. Would you rather be right or
make things right?'"

Alas, these alpha males keep rising to the bait of us zeta males
in the media. We're toxic friends, driving wedges between Shaq
and Kobe. Instead of listening to Men Are from Mars, Women Are
from Venus author John Gray ("Forgiveness is power"), they listen
to reporter Jim Gray ("Shaq says that you have not been a team
player, [Kobe]. Is he right?").

And so the unholy union of O'Neal and Bryant might be worse than
a bad marriage, as I learned the other morning, when my phone
rang at home. "This is Dr. Joyce Brothers. I thought of one other
thing," she said. "At least when two people are feuding in a
marriage, they get to have make-up sex."

Sigh. This could be a very long winter in Los Angeles.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

When it comes to Kobe and Shaq, the Lakers are way beyond Coach
Phil and now require Dr. Phil.