“We respected each other. We’re friends. We’re not call-every-day friends, but I wish that I would’ve talked to him more,” O’Neal admitted.
“I wish I could’ve said, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ I wish I could’ve said, ‘Hey, you know the Hall of Fame thing is coming up? You know you gonna be on that list,’” he added. “We should’ve communicated more. I should communicate with all my friends more. I have no excuses.”
Bryant will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Aug. 29, along with people like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and the WNBA’s Tamika Catchings. But O’Neal said he won’t be able to attend the ceremony.
“We will always be connected, whether people think we like each other or not,” he said about Bryant. “It doesn’t matter. We will always be connected. We were the most competitive, most enigmatic, most controversial, most dominant one-two punch ever created.”
“But I won’t even watch the Hall of Fame ceremony this year,” O’Neal added. “I don’t want to see pictures and video of him, I don’t … I never thought something like this would ever happen.”
O’Neal has spoken a lot about Bryant since he passed away on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant was also on the aircraft and perished along with seven other victims.
Bryant and O’Neal played on the Los Angeles Lakers together from 1996 to 2004, where they won three consecutive NBA championships together.
Along the way, there were reports of them butting heads behind the scenes. But sometimes those disagreements spilled into the media. Like in 2003 when Bryant was asked what he thought about O’Neal saying the Lakers were his team.
“There’s more to life than whose team this is,” Bryant told ESPN’s Jim Gray back then. “But this is his team, so it’s time for him to act like it. That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape.”
Besides O’Neal talking about Bryant’s passing on the “Sports Like A Boss” podcast, he also spoke about it on Conan O’Brien’s late night show while quarantining. During that interview, which landed on YouTube on April 23, O’Neal revealed how he first mourned Bryant’s death.
“When he passed away, I couldn’t believe it. I watched every playoff game that we ever played,” he said. “I just sat in my room and told people I don’t want to talk to anyone, and I am just looking at him [on video] like it can’t be true, because he is right there on the screen.”