The basketball world — and the world of sports, in general — was thunderstruck by the death of NBA and LA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in January. However, few had been as close to Bryant while he was alive as his former Lakers teammate, Shaquille O’Neal, was at one time. During an interview on Wednesday, the four-time NBA champion revealed the unique way in which he mourned Bryant.
While speaking with Conan O’Brien via Zoom call for the quarantine version of the comedian’s late-night show — which was later uploaded to his YouTube channel — O’Neal said that he watched the duo’s old games together with the Lakers on loop after Bryant’s death. The 48-year-old also revealed that he initially had been in denial over Bryant’s passing and preferred to be alone with the old games as opposed to spending time with other people at the time.
“When he passed away, I couldn’t believe it. I watched every playoff game that we ever played. 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 film] like it can’t be true because he is right there on the screen.”
Bryant was killed in a helicopter accident in Calabasa, California on January 26. His daughter, Gianna, and seven others also perished in the crash.
O’Neal and Bryant spent eight seasons together in Los Angeles from 1996 until 2004 when Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat. Over that span, the duo was able to win three NBA titles, however their relationship became strained over time. In the years following Shaq’s move Eastward, the two exchanged barbs via a myriad of mediums. O’Neal eventually retired from the NBA in 2011, having played for six different teams, while Bryant wrapped up his playing career in 2016 following 20 seasons in a Lakers uniform.
More recently, the two had reconciled their differences and repaired their relationship. In 2018, they took part in a sit-down conversation that was broadcast on TNT, during which they commented on their past feud. SB Nation later chronicled some of the best moments from that exchange.
In speaking with Conan, O’Neal also defended his appearance in the hit Netflix series Tiger King. He had previously come under fire for seemingly supporting Joe Exotic, the documentary miniseries’ key subject. He has confessed to make donations to zoos over the years, but maintains he was unaware of any mistreatment of animals by Exotic at the time and has had no business dealings with him. O’Neal further distanced himself from Exotic’s practices on Wednesday.
“America, I do not harm animals. I love animals,” he said.