O'Neal will donate the proceeds from his annual party to the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation as well as to the families of the victims of the helicopter crash

By Becky Randel
February 01, 2020 03:30 PM

Kobe Bryant was never far from pal Shaquille O’Neal‘s mind as the retired player hosted his annual Super Bowl party over the weekend.

Although still reeling from the devastating deaths of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, O’Neal announced earlier this week that he would be going forward with Shaq’s Funhouse Super Bowl Party — and would also donate the proceeds to the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation as well as to the families of the families of the tragic helicopter crash.

“It was just the right thing to do,” O’Neal, 47, told PEOPLE on Friday inside Yellow Tail Wine’s puppy pop-up at the event. “A lot of people were lost, my heart is with the families. I know families are hurting.”

“I’m going to do pretty well here this weekend, so I’m going to make sure those families feel a little better. Nothing in the world can replace that pain, but if I can just add a little bit of laughter and excitement, I’m willing to do that,” he added.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

RELATED: Vanessa Bryant Will Receive Fan Tributes Left for Kobe and Gianna Bryant at Staples Center Memorial

In another touching nod to the late NBA legend, before starting his DJ set later that night, O’Neal was surrounded by a large replica of Bryant’s Laker jerseys and played a tribute video to the late athlete.

“We miss you, Kobe Bryant,” he said.

Bryant’s spirit was also present in all of the performances throughout the night. When Sean “Diddy” Combs took the stage, he also played a tribute video, and dedicated his song “I’ll Be Missing You” to Bryant.

Speaking at the event, Pitbull also added: “Kobe’s legacy is timeless, let it be a movement, not a moment.”

Shaquille O'Neal
Jason Merritt/Radarpics/Shutterstock

As the party progressed, the evening’s vibe turned from sadness to a celebration of life, with the audience chanting “Kobe” between musical sets, and going wild when O’Neal surprised the crowd with a performance from Swisher Sweets Artist DaBaby.

One of the event’s most excited attendees, in fact, was The Bachelorette’s Tyler Cameron, who walked the carpet with Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s Dare Ogunbowale. Cameron, a former football player himself, was clearly fan-boying over the NFL athlete, telling reporters, ‘that’s the guy you really want!’. Also in attendance were Dr. Oz, Ric Flair, The Big Show, and more.

And perhaps O’Neal’s favorite part of his night was when his mood was brightened up by the rescue dogs brought in by Yellow Tail, which organized a pop-up to help get pets adopted from the Miami-Dade County Animal Services. “This is probably my favorite section – people like animals, so hopefully someone will come here and fall in love with these animals and give them a home,” O’Neal said.

RELATED: Shaquille O’Neal Buys Fan a Laptop After He Expressed Condolences for Kobe Bryant’s Death

Shaquille O'Neal
WorldRedEye

When O’Neal first announced that he would not be canceling the event, he shared that it took him several days to come to the decision.

“Part of me wanted to stay to myself as I reflect what my brother and his family mean to me and my family,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that he made up his mind after thinking of what Bryant would want him to do.

“Kobe would want us to push through and celebrate life. So lets do just that,” O’Neal continued. “Together we will celebrate all those who lost their lives in Sundays tragedy. Rip to my brother, my friend and my homie. The Black Mama. Until we meet again.”

If you would like to help the families of the victims of the crash, consider donating to the Mamba on Three Fund. Contributions to the Mamba Sports Foundation will help support youth sports.

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