“I’m not doing well. I’m sick,” a heartbroken O’Neal, 47, said on a special episode of “The BIG Podcast with Shaq” on Monday, January 27. “I’m just getting over the death of my sister. And the same thing hit when I found out this news.”
The former Lakers player recalled being downstairs with his son Shaqir, 16, when his other son showed him the news online that Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash at the age of 41, along with his daughter Gianna and seven other individuals. O’Neal immediately thought it couldn’t be true. “I yelled at Greg, I said, ‘Yo, man, get that s–t out of my face. Get that out my face,’” he said on the podcast. “I figured someone was just playing around. I didn’t want to believe it.”
He added that people began calling him hoping he could confirm or deny the news, which is when he realized “it must not be a hoax cause now the whole world knows this information.”
That’s when the NBA superstar — who is mourning the death of his sister from cancer in October — started to think, “Please don’t be true.” Once the death of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter was confirmed, the awful reality sank in. “[It was] sad enough [to lose Kobe], then you hear his daughter was with him. I didn’t do anything,” O’Neal said, his voice almost hoarse with emotion. “I haven’t eaten. I haven’t slept. I’m looking at all the tapes, but I’m sick right now.”
“This one’s gonna hurt for a long, long time,” he continued. “I just wish he was here. I wish I could say something to him. My heart goes out to [his wife] Vanessa because she lost two.”
He added: “I have a little brother, but I lost a brother yesterday.”
The basketball legend, who memorably feuded with Bryant when he left the Lakers in 2004, said whenever he saw Bryant’s daughters he “loved them” and the same went for when Bryant saw O’Neal’s children. The two former players had their ups and downs, but they were family.
“All the stuff that is documented between us, it was never a dislike,” the New Jersey native explained when talking about his turbulent past with Bryant, which was patched up in 2015 when the two talked on O’Neal’s podcast. “It’s just – listen, it’s what brothers do. I have a younger brother, we fight all the time, but guess what? I love him. You know, I love Kobe Bryant. I’m the first to say, ‘Hey, I got four rings, and I know I couldn’t have gotten three without him.’”
A sign of their closeness was shown by the fact that Bryant messaged O’Neal’s son Shareef, 20, an hour before he died just to check in. “You good fam?” Bryant wrote in a direct message to the college player on Sunday morning.
Shaq revealed that Bryant’s death has changed his perspective on life and he is “going to have to delete my beef and confrontation clause.”
“I don’t want to do that anymore cause you know, you never know. So yesterday I just called all the people I had discrepancies with and just said, ‘Look man, I love you,’” he said. “And we didn’t talk much over the phone, but I just — I just wish we did. You know, we’re sort of like similar guys, hey, family first, business and I’ll see you when I see you. I have a lot of best friends, but I don’t do the mushy talking on the phone thing.”
Shaq also paid tribute to his “brother” via Instagram on Sunday, shortly after the crash.
“There are no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my niece [SIC] Gigi & my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie,” he wrote alongside a series of photos of the two friends in their Lakers jerseys. “I love you and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW !”
As previously reported, the NBA legend was killed on Sunday morning when the private helicopter he and his daughter, along with seven other people, were on crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.
The group was on their way to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in nearby Thousand Oaks for practice when the accident happened.
Bryant leaves behind wife Vanessa Bryant, who he wed in 2001, and daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.