— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 29, 2020
In their eight seasons together, Bryant and O’Neal formed perhaps the greatest duo in NBA history. Off the court, they had their issues but never lost respect for one another, and they both considered their relationship to be brotherly in nature.
So when Bryant was shockingly and tragically killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 — along with his daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others — O’Neal felt the pain of his loss as much as anybody. O’Neal had always felt the narrative of angst between him and Bryant was overblown as he genuinely saw him as his brother.
As O’Neal bravely spoke about Bryant’s death on a special episode of the NBA on TNT, he said the pain of losing Bryant is one that he hadn’t felt in a long time, comparing it to the loss of his sister, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” O’Neal said during a TNT tribute to Bryant on the Staples Center floor, where he was joined by Dwyane Wade, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson, Reggie Miller and Jerry West.
O’Neal proceeded to speak uninterrupted for about seven minutes, talking about the countless ways in which Bryant’s death is impossible to process, and said that not being able to joke with him at his Hall of Fame ceremony in August breaks his heart:
“The fact that we are not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony, the fact that we are not going to be able to say, ‘Ha, I got five. You got four [championships],'” said O’Neal, whose sister, Ayesha Harrison-Jex, died of cancer in October. “The fact that we are not going to be able to say if we would have stayed together, we could have gotten 10 … those are the things you can’t get back. With the loss of my father and my sister … that is the only thing I wish, I could just say something to them again.”
Hearing O’Neal speak about losing Bryant brought fans back to the grief of when this news first circulated. It was perhaps the most openly emotional many fans had ever seen O’Neal and seeing him in pain put so many people in pain as well.
Perhaps the only silver lining — if it can even be called that — is that O’Neal and Bryant rectified their relationship. Bryant ended his life with absolutely no angst towards O’Neal and the latter felt and will forever feel nothing but love in return.