NEW YORK (AP) — Separating Kobe Bryant and Shaquille
O’Neal on different teams on different coasts has done
nothing to lessen the animosity between the one-time Los Angeles
Laker teammates. If anything, the feud is escalating.

Yesterday, O’Neal dismissed as “ridiculous”
Bryant’s allegations that O’Neal had paid up to $1
million in hush money to various women and then took his own shot
by saying, “I’m not the one buying love.”

O’Neal made the remark over the telephone to a staffer at
ESPN, the network said, after the Los Angeles Times quoted a police
report as saying Bryant told detectives in Eagle, Colo., “he
should have done what Shaq does … that Shaq would pay his women
not to say anything” and already had paid up to $1 million
“for situations like this.”

The statement came near the end of a lengthy interrogation about
a hotel employee’s complaint that Bryant had raped her.

The Times said it was unclear precisely what Bryant meant by his

Prosecutors dropped criminal charges against Bryant earlier this
month at the accuser’s request, but the woman has filed a
federal civil suit against him in Denver, seeking unspecified
damages for pain and suffering since the case began.

O’Neal was informed of Bryant’s allegation last
September, and the relationship between the two was cool throughout
the 2003-04 season. O’Neal was subsequently traded to the
Miami Heat.

“This whole situation is ridiculous,” O’Neal
told ESPN. “I never hang out with Kobe, I never hung around
him. In the seven or eight years we were together, we were never
together. So how this guy can think he knows anything about me or
my business is funny. And one last thing — I’m not the
one buying love. He’s the one buying love.”

O’Neal’s latter comment was an apparent reference to
a ring — reportedly costing several million dollars —
that Bryant gave his wife, Vanessa, after he was charged with
felony sexual assault last summer.

There have been no published reports of O’Neal ever being
accused of any sex crimes. He was charged with misdemeanor battery
in Orange County, Fla., in 1998 after a 23-year-old Walt Disney
World employee claimed he grabbed her neck, but the case was
dismissed in 2000.

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