Bryant says he didn’t want critics to use his partnership with O’Neal—with whom he won three consecutive titles—against him when assessing his career.
Kobe adds that his two rings sans Shaq (to say nothing of his utter domination) showed a “glimpse” of what he could do on his own.
Per The Players’ Tribune:
“Here is the thing. I get chastised a lot for being selfish, saying we just got to fit into a team, it’s about winning championships,” said Bryant on the Knuckleheads with Quentin Richardson & Darius Miles podcast. “I get it, I’m doing it, right? We won three straight. I got it. But I also knew that when my career’s over they’re going to chastise me for the same thing: ‘Oh well, you’re only great because you played with Shaq.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa, hold up. You can’t have it both ways, bro?’ You know?
“So it was important for me and Shaq to go separate ways because I didn’t want people to use that against me — they still do — but it was important that I win championships without him.
“And you get a glimpse of what I could have done individually had I not played with him. See what I’m saying? So that was a big driving factor. It was like, ‘Hold on, don’t get it fucked up now.’ Like, I’m doing this thing, I’m playing with Shaq, it’s like — take [Michael Jordan] put him with Wilt [Chamberlain] — Shaq was a force of nature, right? So you’ve kind of take a back seat.”