Kobe Bryant’s tragic death will never cease to cause pain to members of the Los Angeles Lakers family, both those directly involved with the franchise and supporting it from the stands.
Bryant and his famous “Mamba Mentality” persona inspired athletes and fans around the world. And his legacy continues to impact lives, in big part thanks to the countless Kobe stories those who knew him started to share after the legendary Laker’s passing.
But for most Purple and Gold fans, the sad realization that Bryant is gone forever strikes anew every now and then—and with it, sorrow and nostalgia. Kobe’s former co-star, Shaquille O’Neal, told People’s David Walters that such moments make him regret all the things the two teammates-turn-enemies-turn-friends left unsaid:
“You put off [getting in touch],” O’Neal, 50, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands this Friday. “I’ll never get to see Kobe again, in real life, forever. And I just should have called. He should have called. We both should have called. But he’s working, I’m working, so it’s ‘I’ll see you when I see you.’”
O’Neal and Bryant feuded after becoming teammates with the conflict leading to Shaq leaving L.A. after winning the fabled three-peat with the Lakers in the early 2000s. But they eventually made up and grew close again, with O’Neal saying he thought about attending get-togethers of former Lakers legends with Kobe in the years to come:
“[I thought], ‘We’re both going to get old. We’ll both be at the 50-year Lakers anniversary.’ Other things shouldn’t have been more important [than getting in touch], but little things [got in the way].”
His simple advice for others feeling disconnected from friends and loved ones: “Call your mom. Call your brother. Call the homeboy you used to party with in college. Forever is a long time.”
Back in September, members of the “Showtime” Lakers reunited for the first time in decades, spending a brief vacation together in Hawaii.
Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t like comparisons to Bryant
Some young NBA stars — such as Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum and Phoenix Suns playmaker Devin Booker — openly honor Bryant’s memory with in-game tributes and social media posts.
But Milwaukee Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo prefers keeping his relationship with Kobe to himself — because he didn’t have a chance to truly get to know the Lakers icon.
“I will never say this, I will never disrespect the name of the great Kobe. I don’t like mentioning him,” Antetokounmpo said in October. “I feel like he should be mentioned, should never be forgotten. But I don’t like mentioning his name to bring attention to the conversation that we are about to have. I wasn’t close to him. I wasn’t this with him or that with him.
“But I would say this, in some areas of his mindset, I think we’re very similar.”
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