The Lakers could have won more titles had they not broken up Shaq and Kobe.

The Los Angeles Lakers split Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2004 after it looked like the city had become too small for both of them to fit in. That decision led to the Lakers trading O’Neal to Miami, leaving Kobe on his own in La La Land.

But if the great Michal Jordan ran the Lakers and had his way, he said he wouldn’t have done what the Lakers did. Speaking with Marvin Shanken of Cigar Aficionado, MJ said he wouldn’t have traded Shaquille O’Neal.

“I would have never gotten rid of Shaq [O’Neal]. It’s as simple as that. You’ve got three championships with a big man, and big men are hard to find. Not only that, you have the most dominant big man in the game today. You don’t just send him away because you got some problems,” MJ claimed.

MJ said the Lakers made a mistake
The Lakers had started to become what Jordan’s Bulls were in the 1990s – a dynasty. After acquiring O’Neal and drafting Bryant, they became instant title contenders, and in 2000, the Lakers won the first of three consecutive NBA championships.

But while success was flowing on the basketball court, friction between the two stars was also brewing behind the scenes.

When we talk about the Shaq and Kobe feud, it wasn’t just one incident. It was an accumulation of small things that began right from day one. Not only did the two have personal differences, but they also argued about their roles on the team. Some people blamed Kobe; others said it was Shaq’s fault. But according to MJ, it takes two to tango.

“You can’t blame one guy,” Jordan continued. “It’s a combination of both of them. If you’ve got success in your house, you find a way to manage so that everybody prospers and everybody is viewed as champions. Personalities got involved after they’d had some success. It becomes about individuals—individual goals that they wanted to achieve. Be it Kobe leading the league in scoring and carrying the team by himself or Shaq proving he can win without Kobe.

“What’s the purpose of changing if you’ve got the right mixture that’s working? Give me a seven-footer, and I’d probably still be playing right now,” MJ added.

The NBA was a big man’s league back then
Before the Golden State Warriors revolutionized the way NBA championships are won, the main recipe for success in the league was to have a dominant big man and build the team around him. Although Jordan’s Bulls won six NBA championships without an MVP-caliber center, they did have decent bigs like Bill Cartwright and Luc Longley to patrol the painted area.

The Celtics had Robert Parish, the Showtime Lakers had Kareem, Houston had Hakeem, the Spurs had David Robinson and Tim Duncan, and then, of course, the Lakers had Shaq. O’Neal was the most dominant force to ever play in the NBA, and he was the Finals MVP in all of their three championship wins. In the end, however, the Lakers picked Bryant over him.

Shaq would go on to help Dwyane Wade his first NBA championship in 2006, while Kobe would wait much longer to prove he could win without Shaq. But after landing another elite big in Pau Gasol, Bryant led the Lakers to back-to-back titles during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. However, we could only imagine what they could have achieved in between had the Lakers not broken them up in 2004.