Kobe Bryant’s longtime teammate Shaquille O’Neal cried while recounting the moment he found out Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. Sitting center court at the Staples Center with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Dwyane Wade, the men paid tribute to the legendary basketball player on TNT’s special, “Remembering Kobe Bryant.” O’Neal was working out with his son and nephew when another nephew showed him the news on his phone. “I snapped at him,” O’Neal recalled. “I said ‘Man, get that out of my face. Get it away from me.’ We live in a world where anything can be photoshopped, anything can be hoaxed. I didn’t want to believe it.” Then, he heard the false report that Rick Fox had also died. Then, the devastating “final blow”: Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, had died with him. O’Neal says he felt the deaths harder having recently lost his own sister. “Now, I lost a little brother,” he said.
O’Neal and Bryant led the Lakers to three consecutive championships from 2000 to 2002 before O’Neal moved to the Miami Heat. “The fact that we’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony,” O’Neal mourned. “We’re not gonna be able to say ‘Haha, I got five, you got four.’ The fact that we’re not gonna be able to say ‘If we would’ve stayed together, we could’ve got ten.’” Now, he’s determined to “take time and just call and say ‘I love you’” to the people he cares about.