‘I Lost a Little Brother’: Shaquille O’Neal Relates How He Learned of Kobe Bryant’s Passing

Legendary basketball star Shaquille O’Neal has revealed that at first, he didn’t believe the news of his late friend and former teammate Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in a tragic helicopter crash in southern California.

At a TNT pregame special filmed at the Los Angeles Staples Center on Jan. 28, 2020, O’Neal opened up. “I haven’t felt pain that sharp in a while,” he recalled to the panel the moment that he heard the devastating news.

Bryant (L) holds the Larry O’Brian trophy as teammate O’Neal (R) holds the MVP trophy after winning the NBA Championship against Indiana Pacers on June 19, 2000. (©Getty Images | AFP)

“I’m downstairs working out with my son Shaqir and my nephew Columbus,” O’Neal began, in footage shared by the NBA on TNT on Twitter, “and my other nephew comes in crying, and he shows me his phone, and I snapped at him; I said, ‘Man, get that out of my face.’

“We live in a world where anything can be photoshopped, anything can be hoaxed,” the retired NBA star explained. “I didn’t want to believe it. And then I got the call from [Ernie Johnson], Charles [Barkley], Kenny [Smith], everybody called me.

“[I’m] 47 years old,” O’Neal reflected. “I lost two grandmothers. I lost a sarge, lost my sister, and now I lost a little brother.”

O’Neal and Bryant during the unveiling of O’Neal’s statue at Staples Center in Los Angeles on March 24, 2017 (©Getty Images | Kevork Djansezian)

According to the Daily Mail, O’Neal lost his sister Ayesha to cancer in October 2019. On Jan. 26, 2020, he lost Bryant. The fellow retired NBA star, aged 41, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, after the aircraft flew into thick fog and collided with the side of a mountain.

Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, six additional passengers, and the pilot all lost their lives.

At one point in O’Neal’s moving testimony, sportscaster Ernie Johnson, sitting beside O’Neal and seeing him struggle, gently attempted to redirect the conversation. However, O’Neal regained his composure and asked his peers for time to finish his train of thought.

Bryant jumps into the arms of O’Neal as the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA Championship in Los Angeles on June 19, 2000. (©Getty Images | DON EMMERT)

O’Neal said he was devastated to learn that Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was among those who lost their lives in the helicopter accident, calling it “the final blow.”

“His lovely daughter was with him on the helicopter,” O’Neal explained. “Every time I saw his lovely wife and his kids, [I said] ‘Hi, my name is Uncle Shaq.’ I don’t know if they know me as a basketball player; it doesn’t matter.”

O’Neal and Bryant during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on May 31, 2002 (©Getty Images | LUCY NICHOLSON)

According to CBS Sports, in the early days, Bryant and O’Neal clashed fiercely on the court. Eventually, however, they reconciled and became a formidable force for the Los Angeles Lakers during the early 2000s.

Addressing their historical conflict, O’Neal explained to the panel, as per Metro, “[I]f you don’t believe that the respect was there, after I won my first championship [in 2000], who was the first guy to jump in my arms?

“When the guy twisted his ankle in the NBA Finals [in 2000] and couldn’t walk, who was the guy that carried him down the hall?” O’Neal continued. “So, from now on, I don’t want to hear about the beef that ya’ll thought we had.”

O’Neal and Bryant were teammates for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996 to 2004 and won three consecutive championships together. As per CBS Sports, O’Neal has even referred to Bryant as “the greatest Laker of all time” on several occasions.

O’Neal concluded his emotional tribute by stressing his intention to stay in better contact with his loved ones. “With the loss of my father, my sister,” he reflected in the TNT footage shared on Twitter, “that’s the only thing I wish, that I could say something to [Bryant].

“I work a lot. You guys know what I do,” O’Neal continued, speaking to the panel. “I work probably more than the average guy. I just really now have to take time and call and say, ‘I love you.’”

“I’m gonna try to do a better job of just reaching out and just talking to other people rather than always procrastinating,” he concluded, “because you never know.”

Bryant speaks with teammate O’Neal while playing the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semi-finals at America West Arena in Phoenix on May 14, 2000. (©Getty Images | MIKE FIALA)

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Author: Louise Bevan

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