Shaq: 18-Year-Old Kobe Bryant Told Me He’d Be ‘The Will Smith of the NBA’

Bryan Brandom
(Photo: Getty Images)

On Friday, Shaquille O'Neal will lumber through his almost always inevitable steps into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

In advance of his enshrinement, he sat down with his TNT colleague Ernie Johnson for what was called—because of a naming habit that the Big Aristotle/Daddy/Shaqtus/Banana/Agave/Shamrock (… seriously, these are all listed on Google)/eQuotatious/Galactus/Felon/Field General/Maravich/Conductor/IPO/Baryshnikov/Leprechaun/Twitterer/Cordially should really get checked out—the "Big Conversation" for NBA TV, in which he discussed his legendary and entertaining career at length.

And what would a career retrospective of Shaq or Kobe Bryant be without the subject dropping a "ha-ha I'm just kidding (but am I?)" backhanded compliment toward his former superstar teammate? Well, it wouldn't be that.

So Shaq obliged, crediting a young Kobe Bryant for a noticeable drive to succeed while also oh-so-casually mentioning the then 18-year-old's desire to be like Will Smith.

“[Shaq and Kobe's relationship] began with a lot of patience," O'Neal told Johnson. "Kobe has always been one of those guys to want to compete, want to be the best. He told me one time he was going to be the Will Smith of the NBA. He told me that at 18 years old. I was like, ‘OK, young fella.’ But I saw something in him, like you know what, this kid definitely has the potential.”

And being Shaq or Kobe was talking about the other, NBA TV was forced, by law, to show that dunk over his comments.

Bryant turned 18 in August of 1996, the final year of formerly minor late '80s rapper Smith's hit show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the same year his alien-attack armageddon blockbuster Independence Day came out.

O'Neal also admitted he left the Lakers because of Kobe's rise.

The big man who won four NBA championships, three of them with the Los Angeles Lakers, also called Kazaam both his "favorite movie" and "not that bad," all while EJ took a vicious shot at Shaq's genie movie for kids.

Now, yet more Shaq nicknames: