Shareef O’Neal, the 20-year-old son of Shaquille O’Neal, says ever since he received a text message from Kobe Bryant hours before the basketball legend’s death, he’s looked at the message every day. Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
In the text, Bryant asked Shareef, “You good fam?” which the college hoop player said he’ll always cherish.
Shareef also revealed that he was on his way to the Mamba Sports Academy on the day he received the text, the same place Bryant and the others were heading when the helicopter went down.
“I look at it every day,” said Shareef about the message. “It’s a special moment. It’s crazy that three hours before that he texted me asking if I’m good. He was always checking in on me. I would’ve seen him that day because I was going to the same place he was going. It’s crazy. It’s still unbelievable.”
On Feb. 4, Shareef shared photos of a Kobe Bryant tattoo that he received on his calf. It has Bryant’s phrase of “Mamba Mentality,” as well as a photo of the late NBA star, along with his numbers 8 and 24. There’s a photo of Gianna’s No. 2 jersey as well.
Like many probably are at this point, Shareef said he’s still in shock over Bryant’s death.
“There’s always those people in life you look at like superheroes and that nothing bad can ever happen to them,” he said. “It’s still unbelievable to me. I still don’t even want to believe it. It’s just crazy to think about. It races through my mind, but it made me focus more.”
“I feel like it’s changed my basketball drive to times 10,” added Shareef. “I’m gonna do it for him because I know he’d want me to do well. He always told me he wanted me to do well. It’s crazy but I’m gonna play for him.”
At the start of the 2018-19 season, as a player for the UCLA Bruins, Shareef learned that he had a heart condition during a routine medical checkup. He had to forgo his entire season at the California school and underwent surgery in December 2018, which was considered a success.
Then on Friday, Feb. 14, the 6’9″ forward announced that he’s leaving UCLA and will play for LSU, his father’s alma mater.
“Real big footsteps,” he said about playing for the Baton Rouge school. “But I’m ready for it. Great program. Louisiana is a different scene. I’ve been in L.A. most of my life, but I’m ready for it.”
Shareef’s father Shaquille played with Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996-2004, and they won three championships together in 2000, 2001 and 2002.