"Literally this morning you reached out to me..." Shareef O'Neill wrote, after Kobe Bryant's shocking death on Sunday

By Dave Quinn
January 26, 2020 09:33 PM
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Before Kobe Bryant’s tragic death on Sunday, the NBA legend sent a text message to one of the sport’s up-and-coming stars: college basketball player Shareef O’Neal.

Hours after news broke that Bryant had died in the tragic crash — along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and eight other people — the 20-year-old athlete, who is the son of Bryant’s longtime Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal, shared a screengrab of a message he had received from Bryant earlier in the day.

The note, sent over Instagram direct messages, had Bryant asking Shareef, “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?”

Of course, Bryant never respond to Shareef’s message. His helicopter went down around 10:00 a.m., authorities said in a press conference on Sunday.

“Literally this morning you reached out to me ….?” Shareef wrote, before affectionately revealing the nickname he had for Bryant. “I love you forever unc❤️ I love you.”

Shareef also shared a touching tribute to Gianna, writing, “GIGI❤️ love you cousin.”

Shareef O’Neal and Kobe Bryant
Cassy Athena/Getty; Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Shareef, like many others, was shocked when initial reports of Bryant’s death began to surface.

“Wait…” he tweeted, when he first heard the news. “Can’t be real .. please don’t be real … please don’t be real.”

Later, Shareef’s dad Shaq shared his own heartfelt tribute.

“I love you and you will be missed,” he added. “My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. I’M SICK RIGHT NOW.”

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Earlier this week, Shareef announced that he was leaving the University of California – Los Angeles, after just playing 13 games this season.

Though Shareef was a four-star recruit, he missed his entire freshman season last year due to a diagnosis of a right anomalous coronary artery, which caused him to have to undergo open heart surgery.

“Recently I found out I had a serious heart issue. I am very blessed to be here living today,” Shareef wrote on Instagram in September. “One of those moments on the court could’ve been my last breath.”

“This is just a small bump on the road and I gotta push through it,” he continued. “I am very down about not being able to do [the] sport I love. I really wanted this year, I felt like I was at my best, but this is just a minor setback… my health is most important over everything.”

He followed up his initial post with an Instagram showing more exchanges between himself and Bryant, and revealing that Bryant was dedicated to checking in on him as he struggled with the challenges of surgery and giving up his college basketball career.

“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…. 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.”

Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna
Allen Berezovsky/Getty

Bryant, 41, and Gianna were on board the helicopter that crashed on Sunday around 10 a.m. local time in Calabasas, California.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby were among those who held a press conference Sunday afternoon, explaining that nine victims in total — the pilot and eight others — died in the incident.

“All survivors were determined to have been perished,” Osby said, adding it took authorities eight minutes to get to the crash site.

“Our firefighters on the scene indicated there was a debris-filled and steep terrain with quarter-acre brushfire,” Osby said. “Our firefighters hiked into the accident site with medical equipment and hose lines to extinguish the stubborn fire, as it included the brushfire debris from the helicopter. The fire also included magnesium which is very hard for our firefighters to extinguish because magnesium reacts with oxygen and water.”

TMZ, who first reported the news, said Bryant was traveling with Gianna to a game on his private helicopter when it went down.

Since then, three more victims have been identified, including John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, along with his wife Keri Altobelli and their daughter, Alyssa Altobelli.

Alyssa was a teammate of Gianna’s. John, 56, and Keri are also parents to daughter Alexis Altobelli and son John Altobelli, who works as a scout for the Red Sox.

“Orange Coast College asks the media and the public to respect the privacy of John’s family and friends during this difficult time,” they said.