ATLANTA — For the first time, NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal opened up about the death of his former teammate and friend, Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, his daughter 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed Sunday when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in Calabasas, California.
O’Neal’s comments came at the start of TNT’s pregame show, as he sat on the court at Staples Center along with the rest of the network’s studio team. TNT was supposed to televise a doubleheader, but the NBA canceled the Lakers-Clippers game that was scheduled to be the nightcap because the Lakers organization is still too devastated after the death of Bryant and his daughter.
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” O’Neal said.
Shaq said he was working out with his son and nephew, when another nephew walked into the room crying and showed him the phone.
“I snapped at him,” O’Neal said. “I said, ‘Get that out of my face.'”
O’Neal said he thought it was a hoax at first, and then he started getting phone calls from friends and other fellow basketball players.
“Forty-seven years old, I’ve lost two grandmothers … lost my sister. And now I’ve lost my little brother," O’Neal said.
O'Neal and Bryant teamed to help the Lakers win three straight championships from 2000-02, but they occasionally feuded and O'Neal was traded to Miami in 2004. He would win another title there, while Bryant would win two more with the Lakers.
O’Neal said his heart broke even more when he learned who else was on the chopper.
“It’s sort of like a triple stabbing to the heart because after you cry and wonder about that, then I get back on the internet – Rick Fox is on the (helicopter). So now, I’m sick even more,” O’Neal said. “And then the final blow, his lovely daughter was with him on the helicopter.”
They eventually patched up their relationship and O'Neal said they texted frequently, though he said he hadn't actually seen Bryant since the final day of his career in 2016. O'Neal said he told Bryant to score 50 points and Bryant instead scored 60.
O’Neal said Bryant even checked in with his son Shareef, who underwent heart surgery in December 2018.
“Shareef called me, devastated, and said Kobe just texted me to check and see how he was doing. And he used to do that from time to time,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal said this year’s NBA Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be a solemn event.
“The fact that we’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony. The fact that we’re not going to be able to say, ‘Ha, Ha. I got five. You got four.’ The fact that we’re not going to be able to say, ‘If we had stayed together to get 10,’ those are the things we can’t get back,” O’Neal said.
O'Neal's comments were his first that were televised since Bryant's death. He had previously only posted on social media and spoken on a podcast.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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