The college athlete also honored Gianna Bryant with a tattoo of her No. 2 Mamba Academy jersey
On Tuesday, the 20-year-old college basketball star debuted a massive new leg tattoo he got in honor of the late NBA legend and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who both died alongside seven others in a tragic helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
The young athlete shared the new ink, which featured multiple parts, on his Instagram Story.
The first part of the tribute appeared across his shin, where O’Neal tattooed Bryant’s famous catchphrase “Mamba Mentality” and its logo.
Moving towards the inside of his leg, he paid homage to Bryant and Gianna with their jersey numbers.
For Bryant, he got the numbers “8” and “24,” along with an illustration of the late NBA legend shooting a basketball. Above the illustration, O’Neal inked Gianna’s No. 2 Mamba Academy jersey.
Hours after news broke that Bryant had died in the tragic crash, O’Neal, who is the son of Bryant’s longtime Los Angeles Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal, revealed Bryant had messaged him earlier that day.
He shared a screengrab of the note, sent over Instagram direct messages, which showed Bryant checking in on Shareef and asking, “You good fam?”
His question was sent around 8:29 a.m. local time. Shareef responded at 10:58 a.m. “Yeah!,” he wrote. “Just been getting this work in trying to figure out my next move. How you been?”
“This first picture were messages from THIS MORNING!!! .. I wish I didn’t sleep in so I could’ve talked to you .. I can’t even think straight right now,” Shareef later shared on Instagram alongside the messages.
He added, “I’m glad we got to bond over the years .. not only were you a great uncle you were a coach and a mentor to me too .. I love you man..thank you for everything you’ve done .. for this city , for the basketball world , and for me … I won’t let you down .. you always counted on me and lifted me up. Love you unc ❤️ ❤️.”
Shareef — who had been playing as a forward at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) before announcing his plans to transfer in January — uploaded a second set of messages from Bryant over the years, all showing how much the basketball star cared for his friend’s son.
“I’m crying while reading these messages over … even when I was at my worst you checked in on me so often .. I really appreciate you for that because I needed that so much,” he wrote. “i was so defeated sittin in that hospital everyday and I thought my basketball life was over .. you brought a smile to my face .. thank you . Love you.”
Shareef had to undergo open-heart surgery in 2018 after he was diagnosed with an anomalous coronary artery — a congenital heart defect that caused an artery to grow in the wrong place.
He also shared a post from the Laker’s tribute game last week, posing alongside Kobe and Gianna’s jerseys.
“You always wanted me to be the best I could be.. you always made sure I was happy, you put me before you put yourself and when we had our moments you made me feel like I was great … 8|24 ❤️ 2 . I love you , I thank you , I miss you ❤️,” Shareef wrote.
Following the deaths of her husband Kobe and daughter Gianna, Vanessa Bryant announced that the Mamba Sports Foundation set up a charity for the seven other victims of the helicopter crash: John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.
Donations are being accepted through the Mamba Sports Foundation called the MambaOnThree Fund.