Shaquille O’Neal opened up about the death of his Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant during an emotional TNT tribute to Bryant at the Staples Center on Tuesday. Dwyane Wade, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson, Reggie Miller and Jerry West joined the Lakers basketball legend to pay homage.
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” the visibly shaken O’Neal said of his former teammate, whom he referred to as his “little brother.” The pair had their share of clashes while playing together, but they eventually reconciled. O’Neal alluded to their contentious relationship during his emotive dedication. “Our names will be attached together for what we did. People always ask about our relationship, and I tell them it’s just like me and Charles. You’ve got two strong-minded people that are gonna get it done their way,” O’Neal said. “We’re gonna say certain things, the respect will never be lost, but when it comes to being inside the lines and win, that’s what me and him, that’s what we did.”
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Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday. All nine on board, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, were killed in the crash.
“And then the final blow, his lovely daughter was with him on the helicopter,” O’Neal said, adding that he considered himself her uncle as he does with many of his friends’ children. He said that Bryant’s death was a wakeup call to not take those you love and respect for granted. “The fact that we’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony. The fact we’re not gonna be able to say, ‘Ha, I got five, you got four.’ The fact that we’re not gonna be able to say, ‘If we had stayed together we coulda got 10,’” he said. “Those are the things you can’t get back.”
“It definitely changes me,” O’Neal tearfully concluded, before stressing the importance of telling people what they mean to you before it’s too late.
Bryant’s tragic death at the age of 41 has spurred several tributes, from Bad Bunny’s “6 Rings” to dedications at the Grammys hours after the news broke. In the wake of Bryant’s death, questions have also been posed about the darker aspects of the basketball legend’s legacy.