Shaquille O'Neal On Kobe Bryant: 'I Now Know What It Feels Like To Lose A Brother'
Shaquille O'Neal was working out with one of his sons and one of his nephews Sunday morning when another nephew ran into the room and showed him his phone.
There was a report that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash.
O'Neal's initial reaction was to snap, saying, "Man get that out of my face." He hoped it was fake, photoshopped, conjured up -- anything but real.
But after Bryant's death was confirmed, O'Neal felt broken.
"I haven't felt a pain that sharp in a while," O'Neal said on TNT'S one-hour special Tuesday honoring Bryant. "I'm 47 years old, I lost two grandmothers, lost [my stepfather] The Serg', lost my sister -- and now I lost a little brother."
O'Neal, whose little sister, Ayesha, died of cancer in Oct., said the last couple of months had already been really hard on him. He cried multiple times while talking about Bryant.
"I haven't been sleeping," O'Neal said. "I haven't been doing the normal things that I usually do."
Bryant and O'Neal won three NBA championships together from 2000-2002. O'Neal remembers being struck by Bryant's bravado when he first met the 17-year-old.
"He said, 'I'm going to be the best player in the world, and off the court, I'm going to be bigger than Will Smith," O'Neal said. "You know me, I'm like, okay, all right, slow down."
His prophecy proved true. Bryant went on to lead the Lakers to five NBA championships. He's a two-time Finals MVP, a one-MVP in 2008, an 18-time All-Star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist -- and arguably one of the best players ever.
Bryant and O'Neal had a complicated relationship when they played together, with Bryant criticizing O'Neal for being lazy and out of shape, and O'Neal calling Bryant a showboat. O'Neal was eventually traded to Miami in 2004.
But O'Neal said Tuesday that they were just "two strong-minded people," adding that "the respect will never be lost."
"If you don't believe the respect was there, after I won my first championship, who was the first guy to jump into my arms?" O'Neal said. "When [Bryant] twisted his ankle in The Finals and couldn't walk, who was the guy who carried him down the hall? So from now on, I don't want to hear about the beef you all thought we had."
O'Neal likened Bryant to a brother, pointing to the relationship that he has with his own brother, Jamal.
"I have a little brother, he's 40-something," O'Neal said. "For 40 years, it ain't ever been all cookies and cream. Every now and then it's been grits and pork chops. But you love him, you respect him."
When O'Neal found out about Bryant's death, he was gutted. So was his son, Shareef, whom had exchanged text messages with Bryant Sunday morning before the crash.
O'Neal said the last time he spoke to Bryant was during his final game before he retired in 2016.
"We were here [at Staples Center] and I asked him to get 50 [points], and he got 60," O'Neal said.
O'Neal, a four-time NBA champion, said he laments the fact that he's not going to be able to joke around with Bryant at his Hall of Fame ceremony.
"Were not going to be able to say, hi, I got five, you got four," O'Neal said. "The fact that we're not going to be able to say if we would've stayed together, we would've gotten 10. Those are the things you cant get back."
O'Neal had a lot of respect for Bryant as a father, and they were both close with each other's children. Whenever he saw them, he'd call himself uncle Shaq and try and make them laugh.
O'Neal said he's "not a big internet guy," but after Bryant's death he's "watched every Kobe-Shaq video anyone ever put up."
"I truly believe that we will be the most dominant big-little, one-two punch ever," O'Neal said.
O'Neal said that one takeaway from this tragedy is that he was reminded that he needs to be better at reaching out to people and telling them he loves them.
"My spirit just left my body," O'Neal said. "I just wish I could be able to say one last thing to the people we lost because once you're gone, you're gone forever. And we should never take stuff like that for granted."
O'Neal said this loss is going to resonate.
"We lost probably the world's greatest Laker, the world's greatest basketball player," O'Neal said. "Listen, people are going to say take your time and get better. But it's going to be hard for me."