Shaquille O’Neal Speaks on Kobe Bryant’s Death Nearly a Year After: ‘Still Kind of Hard’

by Suzanne Halliburton

Shaquille O’Neal still misses his friend and teammate, Kobe Bryant. He still wants to dial him up and talk. A year isn’t long enough to get over an unexpected death.

O’Neal talked about Kobe Bryant with “Today” show host Craig Melvin Thursday morning. The anniversary of Bryant’s death is in five days, so it’s an obvious question of anyone who was so close to the former LA Laker. Melvin wanted to know about Shaq’s relationship with Kobe.

“We had a very enigmatic relationship,” Shaquille O’Neal said, in describing his friendship with Kobe Bryant.

“That’s why I would say, we were the most dominant one, two points ever created,” O’Neal said. “Enigmatic, controversial, having fun and there never will be another like us. You know, it’s still kind of hard. [I] redid my living room, redid my gym. His picture is up on the wall.”

NBA World Used To Be Consumed With Drama Created Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe

Enigmatic, the word Shaquille O’Neal used, means mystery, difficult to figure out. The two NBA superstars had their well-documented issues. They played together on the Lakers from 1996-2004.

The team won three NBA titles during that stretch. Sometimes, it can be difficult to mesh two big personalities with gigantic talents and egos. There are few athletes in this country who are known by one name. But everyone knew Kobe and Shaq, no last names were required.

Tensions between the two superstars often spilled out into the press. After the 2004 season, Shaquille O’Neal demanded a trade. LA sent him to the Miami Heat. The Lakers kept Bryant.

Superstars Matured, Became Good Friends Again

But as the two matured away from each other, they became friends again. When Shaquille O’Neal started his podcast in 2015, Kobe was his first guest. O’Neal liked to introduce Bryant as the “greatest Laker ever.”

When the Lakers put up a statue to honor Shaquille O’Neal in 2017, Bryant spoke at the dedication ceremony.

So O’Neal mourned like he lost a brother when Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash, Jan. 26. Eight others, including Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, also died. In a thick fog, the pilot crashed near Calabasas, in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains in California.

They’d been headed to Gigi’s basketball game. The passengers were other young players, their parents and coaches.

O’Neal was one of the speakers who eulogized Kobe at Bryant’s memorial service at the Staples Center. He talked of how immaturity probably played a part in their disagreements.

He told the mourners: “When I ever imagined speaking to a group of people about Kobe Bryant, I usually pictured it in a context of a Hall of Fame induction or as a guest speaker at one of Kobe and Vanessa’s foundation events. But never did I imagine that I would be here speaking today … and it pains me to my core.

“Like all of you, I continue to be devastated over the loss of my friend, my little brother, Kobe Bryant and my beautiful niece Gigi. All of us were forever changed on January 26.”

Nearly a year later, Kobe’s death still is tough to absorb. Shaquille O’Neal told Craig Melvin:

“He was already a legend,” O’Neal said. “He was already a guy that will never be forgotten, but he was definitely, definitely gone too soon.”

For more Outsider recent coverage of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, click here, here and here.