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"He was definitely, definitely gone too soon," the sports star said

By Nicholas Rice
January 21, 2021 02:40 PM
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Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal
Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty

Shaquille O'Neal is continuing to pay tribute to his late friend Kobe Bryant.

Nearly a year after the basketball legend died in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, O'Neal, 48, opened up about losing his friend and former teammate while appearing virtually on NBC News' 3rd Hour of the Today show on Thursday morning.

Asked by Craig Melvin how often he thinks of his pal and their friendship, O'Neal told him, "we had a very enigmatic relationship."

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

"He was already a legend," O'Neal added. "He was already a guy that will never be forgotten, but he was definitely, definitely gone too soon."

During his time on Today, O'Neal also opened up about how Kobe's parents are doing.

"I visited with his parents when I was in Vegas, and, you know, they're handling it very, very well," he said.

"They're tough," he added. "His mom and dad are wonderful, perfect people. I'm glad I got to spend time with them."

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Last February, O'Neal delivered a heartfelt tribute at Bryant's celebration of life, where he reflected on their friendship and the memorable moments they shared as Lakers teammates. The pair played together on the basketball team for eight seasons from 1996-2004.

"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 at the time. "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."

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. "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.' In truth, Kobe and I always maintained a deep respect and love for one another."

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Months later, in an interview with USA Today, O'Neal also spoke about his friend and admitted he still had things he wanted to tell Bryant.

"I don't want to see anybody go out like that and never to be able to talk to him again," the sports star said at the time. "The thing that hurt me was all the stuff that I wanted to say, I hadn't said it. I never said it."