Shaquille O’Neal gave his first televised response about Kobe Bryant being killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday. The late basketball legend’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant also died in the crash, along with seven others.
O’Neal — who also recently lost his sister to cancer — first responded to Bryant’s death Monday on social media, where he expressed his love for him.
Then on Tuesday, during TNT’s pregame show, O’Neal said he hasn’t been sleeping because of the grief and hasn’t been able to carry on many of his day-to-day functions.
The retired center also said he was working out with family members when he heard the tragic news, but he didn’t believe it at first.
“My son Shaqir and my nephew Columbus, and my other nephew comes in crying, and he shows me his phone, and I snapped at him,” O’Neal explained. “I said, ‘Man, get that out of my face.’ We live in a world where anything can be photoshopped, anything can be hoaxed. I didn’t want to believe it.”
“And then I got the call from Ernie [Johnson], Charles [Barkley], Kenny [Smith], everybody called me and then we found out it was confirmed,” he added. “I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while. [I’m] 47 years old. I lost two grandmothers. I lost a sarge, lost my sister and now I lost a little brother.”
O’Neal and Bryant played on the Los Angeles Lakers together from 1996 to 2004 and won three championships as teammates in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
They’re also considered by many to be the most powerful guard and center combination in NBA history, and O’Neal said their shared history contributes to his pain.
“Our names will be attached together for what we did,” explained the former Miami Heat player, who also bumped heads with Bryant during their playing days.
“People always ask about our relationship, and I tell them it’s just like me and Charles,” he added. “You got two strong-minded people that are going to get it done their way, that are going to say certain things. The respect will never be lost. When it comes to being inside the lines and winning, that’s what me [and] him did.”
O’Neal also broke down when he spoke about never having any more moments with Bryant, and he wished they spoke more.
“The fact that we’re not gonna be able to joke during his Hall of Fame ceremony,” he said. “We’re not gonna be able to say, ‘Ha, I got five and you got four.'”
“It definitely changes me. … I work probably more than the average guy,” O’Neal added. “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 because you never know.”
Afterward, many took to social media and said watching the TNT commentator talk about his former teammate helped them deal with their own grief.
“Extremely therapeutic. It was sad, funny and incredibly moving. I hope a lot of people saw it,” one person tweeted.