Shaquille O'Neal Calls Kobe Bryant 'Heaven's MVP' in Heartfelt Tribute at Celebration of Life
"Never did I imagine that I would be here speaking today... and it pains me to my core," Shaquille O'Neal told the crowd on Monday
The NBA star, 47, delivered a heartfelt tribute on Monday at Bryant’s celebration of life, where he reflected on their friendship and the memorable moments they shared as Los Angeles Lakers teammates.
Beginning his speech at the Staples Center, O’Neal admitted that speaking at a celebration of life for Bryant — who he called “heaven’s MVP” — felt surreal and was still incredibly difficult for him to process.
“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,” he said.
“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,” he continued. “All of us were forever changed on January 26.”
Calling Bryant “a loyal friend and a true renaissance man,” O’Neal went on to discuss their “very complex relationship,” which he said wasn’t always what it seemed from the outside.
“Kobe and I pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all time,” he explained, adding that he was proud play alongside Bryant and be a part of the Lakers championship-winning legacy.
“Yeah, sometimes like immature kids, we argued, we fought, bantered, and made offhand remarks to each other, but make no mistake: even when folks thought we were on bad terms, when the cameras were turned off, he and I would throw a wink at each other and say ‘Let’s go whoop some ass,’ ” he continued.
“In truth, Kobe and I always maintained a deep respect and love for one another,” he added.
The NBA star went on to recall a hilarious interaction between himself and the late Lakers star after their teammates complained that Bryant wasn’t passing the ball on the court.
“I said I’ll talk to him. So I said, ‘Kobe, there’s no ‘I’ in team’ and Kobe said, ‘I know, but there’s an ‘M-E’ in motherf—,’ ” he shared through laughter. “So I went back and … I said, ‘Just get the rebound, he’s not passing.’ ”
O’Neal also promised to continue Bryant’s legacy and be there for his family, before ending the heartfelt tribute on a sweet note.
“Just know that we got your back, brother. I’ll look after things down here,” he said. “I promise to teach Natalia, Bianka and baby Capri all your moves. I promise I will not teach them my free throw techniques.”
“For now, I take comfort in the fact that as we speak, Kobe and Gianna are holding hands, walking to the nearest basketball court,” he finished. “I love you, my man. ‘Til we meet again, rest in peace, brother.”
O’Neal has previously spoken out about Bryant’s death, admitting that he had one regret about their friendship on his show The Big Podcast with Shaq.
“I wish we would have communicated more,” O’Neal said. “That’s just how we are. Of course, when we saw each other it was love and respect and you know looking out for the kids. His daughter Gigi was a fabulous player. I just wish I could have talked to him before, that’s it.”
“I just wish he was here,” O’Neal added. “I wish I could say something to him.”
The former athlete was also visibly emotional on the Lakers’ pre-game special when recalling his time with Bryant, revealing he “didn’t want to believe it” when he first heard the news of his friend’s death.
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame Ceremony. Those are the things you can’t get back.”