Shaquille O'Neal tearfully said Tuesday he never could have imagined anything like Kobe Bryant's death, remembering his former teammate as a great player whose kids called him "Uncle Shaq."
"The fact that we lost probably the world’s greatest Laker, the world’s greatest basketball player is just — listen, people are going to say take your time and get better, but this is going to be hard for me," O'Neal said. "I already don’t sleep anyway, but I’ll figure it out."
O'Neal's comments came at the start of TNT's pregame show, as he sat on the court at Staples Center along with the rest of the network's studio team. TNT was supposed to televise a doubleheader, but the NBA canceled the Lakers-Clippers game that was scheduled to be the nightcap because the Lakers organization is still too devastated after the death of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash Sunday.
O'Neal was working out with family members when he got the news and hoped it wasn't true.
"I never could have imagined nothing like this," he said. "I was thinking the other day I’ve never seen anything like this. All the basketball idols that I grew up (watching), I see them. They’re old."
O'Neal and Bryant teamed to help the Lakers win three straight championships from 2000-02, but they occasionally feuded and O'Neal was traded to Miami in 2004. He would win another title there, while Bryant would win two more with the Lakers.
They eventually patched up their relationship and O'Neal said they texted frequently, though he said he hadn't actually seen Bryant since the final day of his career in 2016. O'Neal said he told Bryant to score 50 points and Bryant instead scored 60.
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"The fact that we’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony, we’re not going to be able to say, ‘Hi, I’ve got five (rings), you’ve got four,' the fact that we’re not going to say if we’d stayed together we could have got 10, those are the things you can’t get back," O'Neal said.
O'Neal's comments were his first that were televised since Bryant's death. He had previously only posted on social media and spoken on a podcast.
He has been recovering from the death of his sister, and said he hadn't felt pain like Bryant's death in some time. He said he always said the same things to Bryant's children.
"Hi, my name is Uncle Shaq," he said. "I don’t know if they know me as a basketball player. Doesn’t matter. Just 'Hi, I'm Uncle Shaq.' Try to make them laugh and he would do the same thing."