Graphic by David Jakacky

29 years ago on Nov.11, 1992, a rookie by the name of Shaquille O’Neal sent shockwaves through the league in his debut performance. The 7-foot-1-inch O’Neal was chosen from Louisiana State University with the first pick of the 1992 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. 

In his very first career appearance against the Heat, O’Neal took advantage of a porous paint area that Miami couldn’t contain or control. He brought in 18 rebounds, the most among any player in the contest. O’Neal’s stat line becomes even more impressive when you consider the 12 points and three blocks he was able to add. 

The contribution from their soon-to-be star center was more than enough to get the Magic over the hump, and they took down the Heat with a score of 110-100. With the bruising and domineering style of play that the “Big Aristotle” was later known for, O’Neal managed to foul out of the contest after only 32 minutes of in-game action as a starter. 

Unbeknownst to O’Neal at the time, arguably his greatest teammate was just starting his own rise to stardom at Lower Merion High School. A young guard by the name of Kobe “Bean” Bryant had been making waves at his Pennsylvania-based school, breaking countless records while enrolled and was en route to entering the NBA Draft directly from high school, skipping college altogether. 

Ironically, Bryant’s debut was a week before, but four years after, O’Neal’s on Nov. 3, 1996, as Kobe played his first game wearing L.A. Lakers’ purple and gold. The debut for the “Black Mamba” was certainly less flashy than that of his future teammate in L.A., as the Lakers were able to pull off a 91-85 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves and a very young Kevin Garnett. A rookie Bryant came off the bench, only seeing six minutes of action in which he delivered a rebound and a block. 

Bryant’s first points didn’t come until two days after when he was fouled in a game against the New York Knicks. Bryant sunk his free throws and began what was inevitably going to be one of the greatest careers in the history of the NBA. O’Neal joined the Lakers before the start of the 1996-97 NBA season, where he spent the following eight seasons playing in the Staples Center with Bryant. 

It can be maddening to think that one of the greatest centers of all time fouled out of his very first NBA contest and failed to register a point in his first NBA appearance. Bryant went on to lead the league in scoring in consecutive seasons between 2005 and 2007, with a mark of 35.4 points per game in the 2005-06 regular season. 

What is almost just as wild to think about is that both of these players started their careers within a week of each other, but both in completely different situations. Then, somehow they both were able to meet up in Los Angeles and succeed with by far the best one-two punch pairing in NBA history.