Shaquille O’Neal said Tuesday he didn’t want to believe the news when it first started hitting social media that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash in Southern California.
Then he got a flood of calls from friends and there was confirmation.
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” he said on TNT’s “Remembering Kobe” tribute. “I lost a little brother.”
The tribute was aired from Staples Center where the game between the Los Angeles Lakers, where Bryant played his entire NBA career, and the Los Angeles Clippers had been postponed.
TNT’s NBA studio crew sat in a darkened arena with Bryant’s two retired numbers spotlighted in the rafters.
O’Neal said that though he and Bryant were two strong-minded individuals and certain things were said, they never lost respect for one another.
O’Neal cried as he lamented no longer being able to joke with Bryant about the titles they won (Bryant had five; O’Neal four) or how many they would have won if they had stayed teammates. He wished he could be there to laugh with Bryant when the guard is inducted into the Hall of Fame, he said.
“I wish I could say something to him again,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal said the death of Bryant caused him to reflect on working too much and not reaching out to the people he loved, colleagues included.
He said in Kobe’s death the world lost the greatest Laker and the greatest player.
Jerry West: Kobe always had the Mamba Mentality
Bryant came to the Lakers through a shrewd move by then General Manager Jerry West.
Bryant was just 17 and it wasn’t a time when NBA teams went after high school stars.
Bryant’s agent pitched a workout with his client and some of the top draft prospects.
But as the workout began, it wasn’t long before Bryant’s talent and mentality emerged.
“I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous. These (other) kids don’t even belong here,'” West said Tuesday night
West said that Bryant, who came to proclaim his “Mamba Mentality” during his award-laden and title-filled NBA career, always had the killer-instinct attitude. Even at 17.
West, a Hall of Fame player, said he courted O’Neal to come to the Lakers as a free agent by telling him that he had great players on his team.
And on draft day, West traded his top center, for Bryant — picked by the Charlotte Hornets — and he had a future superstar to help land the dominating center.
He told O’Neal “we have one that’s going to be the best player in the league one day,” he said.
West told TNT that his relationship with Bryant was one where they had many intimate conversations and that he grew to feel like he was a fatherly figure for the emerging player.
Bryant was always searching out information and trying to become better, West said.
“There were so many things we talked about,” West said. “I don’t know that I can ever get over this.”
Other legends reflect on death of Kobe
Dwyane Wade described how he came into the league wanting respect from one person. It came in 2008 before an Olympic practice when a trainer pitted the two players in a drill in which they each tried to maintain a pushup position longer than the other guy.
Wade did well, held his position longer than ever, and he said Bryant told him, “You’re just like me” when it comes to being competitive.
Kenny Smith said Bryant was just as aggressive at being a dad as he was at being a player. Smith said he admired the way Bryant, an 18-time all-star, transitioned into full-time father.
The almost-always loquacious Charles Barkley said he had to wait before talking publicly about Bryant’s death.
He had been at a movie and when he emerged his cell phone had scores of texts and missed calls. He clicked on CNN.
“And I just started crying,” he said. Barkley said Bryant was like one of his kids even though they didn’t interact for long each time they saw each other.