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 cancelled 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.
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while.. it definitely changes me.”’<a href=”https://twitter.com/SHAQ?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SHAQ</a> on the loss of his brother, Kobe. <a href=”https://t.co/dM5i0DDgGK”>pic.twitter.com/dM5i0DDgGK</a>
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.
“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.”
For author and attorney Mark Shaw, there’s one memory of Kobe Bryant seared into his brain — that of a young basketball star seated in a Colorado courtroom with what he perceived as a flippant attitude to the charge of sexual assault against him.
“Here was Kobe with an arrogant look on his face,” said Shaw, who covered the case for ESPN in 2004.
“It bothered me and it bothered all of the other reporters. He wasn’t taking this seriously at all. I don’t know if he was in denial or whatever, but he just didn’t take it seriously.”
Shaw, who is convinced of Bryant’s guilt, said he is particularly bothered by the coverage of Bryant’s death, that not enough emphasis has been placed on this part of the athlete’s life.
The tragic death of Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash Sunday, has sparked an outpouring of grief and tributes for the basketball great who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles during his 20-year career. But others have been quick to note that Bryant’s legacy is also marked by an allegation of sexual assault. And that, in turn, has sparked a backlash from some fans angered that the allegations were revisited so soon after his death.
“When someone passes away, certainly you want to highlight what they did well in life. And apparently he did kind of turn his life around from that point and became a great father, and the things that he’s done and all of that, that’s great,” said Shaw.
“But you just need to tell both sides of the story. A lot of times people just don’t want to really know the truth. They would rather discard that and only look at the positives that were involved with somebody’s life.”
Indeed, a Washington Post reporter faced considerable social media backlash and death threats after she tweeted a link to an old article about the sexual assault allegation against Bryant shortly after he was killed. (Felicia Sonmez was suspended by the paper, which then seemed to back off on Tuesday.)
Jill Filipovic, lawyer and author of The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, said it’s possible to “grieve a life lost and also address that life honestly.”
“To everyone yelling NOT NOW: Then when? When are we supposed to grapple with, and tell the whole truth about, the lives of people many admire?” she tweeted Sunday.
I’m now returning to my Twitter hiatus, but to everyone yelling NOT NOW: Then when? When are we supposed to grapple with, and tell the whole truth about, the lives of people many admire? We can grieve a life lost and also address that life honestly. <br><br>Also read it before yelling.
In a blog posted titled Kobe Bryant and Complicated Legacies, Filipovic wrote that all of his success in sports is “key to Kobe’s story” but also “is not the whole story.”
“Out of some mislaid definition of ‘respect,’ we are so excellent at sidelining the inconvenient parts, at least when the inconvenient parts are women we’ve made invisible and the one inconvenienced is a man we would prefer to keep admiring, without complication,” she wrote.
In 2003, Bryant was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He had said the two had consensual sex. Prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser, in exchange for a public apology. Bryant also settled a civil suit against him by the accuser for an undisclosed amount of money.
While some endorsements dried up, including McDonald’s, other major companies like Nike stuck by Bryant. He was largely able to put the allegations behind him, going on to have one of the most successful careers in the NBA, eventually retiring in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in the league’s history.
However, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, those allegations resurfaced. In March 2018, after he won an Oscar for the short animated film Dear Basketball, based on a poem he wrote, some criticized the Academy for its selection. And in Oct. 2018, he was ousted from the jury of an animated film festival after an online petition was circulated demanding he be dropped.
Shaw said in recounting Bryant’s legacy, it’s fine to talk about how Bryant seemed to change his ways following the alleged attack.
“I think you can do it in a way where you say despite him being charged with sexual assault … Kobe Bryant had become a changed man. I think you can put a positive spin on this — but it does need to include this incident that happened back then.”
Globe and Mail investigative reporter Robyn Doolittle, whose recent book Had it Coming: What’s Fair in the Age of #MeToo? includes a chapter about the Bryant case, said it’s important to remember someone like Bryant as a whole person.
“He can be a basketball legend, and it means so much to so many people, and he can also be an amazing father, by all accounts. He can also be someone who faced very credible sexual assault or rape allegations,” she said.
“I don’t necessarily think that people should hate Kobe Bryant. My book is all about ‘It’s not black or white. The hot take isn’t necessarily the most productive one.'”
His death, the outpouring of grief, and what some might say is an effort by fans to ignore the most controversial chapter of his life is illustrative of the intense relationship many have with their celebrity idols, said Bradley Bond, a University of San Diego associate professor in communication studies.
Bond studies the psychological concept known as parasocial relationship: the way people develop very strong social and emotional ties to fictional characters and celebrities.
The nature of entertainment media is to continually disclose information about these people, and the public feels like they get to know them over the course of time, he said.
“So it makes sense that when one of those perceived relationships dissolves that we experience grief in a similar way.”
And when a celebrity does something that conflicts with one’s own moral code, it either negatively influences the relationship or fans find a way to close that cognitive dissonance with some type of excuse, Bond said.
“I think the easiest case with something like Kobe’s complicated background is to simply not believe the accuser.”
As well, fans may also be able to separate an actor or athlete’s personal life with their performance.
“You can still admire that primary attribute even if secondary attributes might conflict with what you see as an admirable person. I think you can separate Kobe the athlete from Kobe the individual.”
The NBA has postponed the Los Angeles Lakers’ next game against the Clippers on Tuesday night after the deaths of retired superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash.
The league announced the decision in a statement Monday, saying it “was made out of respect for the Lakers organization.”
The Lakers learned about the crash while flying home from an East Coast trip Sunday. LeBron James and several other players appeared to be visibly affected by the news when they got off the plane.
James made his first public comments Monday night in an Instagram post including several photos of himself with Bryant. The four-time NBA MVP and 16-time All-Star said he was “heartbroken and devastated,” and had been crying repeatedly while trying to write about Bryant.
James, who joined the Lakers last season, said the two spoke by phone Sunday morning after James passed Bryant for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list Saturday night.
“Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have,” James wrote. “I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation and it’s my responsibility to put this [team] on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me!”
The Lakers made grief counsellors available to employees Monday after the loss of Bryant, who spent his entire 20-year NBA career with the 16-time NBA champion franchise.
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss was quite close to Bryant, and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka was Bryant’s agent during his playing career.
“The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences,” the Lakers organization said in a statement after the postponement was announced. “This is a very difficult time for all of us.”
Dwight Howard is the only current Lakers player who played with Bryant, but the players all knew him. Bryant had attended a handful of Lakers games in recent years with his daughter, Gianna, who also died in the crash in Calabasas, Calif.
WATCH | CBC’s The National speaks with Angelenos about Kobe’s impact:
The NBA says the game between the Los Angeles rivals will be rescheduled later.
The next game on the Lakers’ schedule is Friday night at home against Portland.
L.A. remembers Kobe
Men, women and children of every ethnicity milled around, drawn to the heart of downtown Los Angeles where they had once celebrated five NBA championships won by Bryant and the Lakers.
Like many Angelenos, Bryant was a transplant. Born in Philadelphia, he spent some of his earliest years in Italy, where he learned the language while his father played pro basketball. He later returned to the Philadelphia area and starred at suburban Lower Merion High, becoming the top prep player in the country.
But he was most closely identified with LA, where the city’s adopted son thrilled fans with his all-star moves for the Lakers over 20 seasons.
Bryant came to the NBA straight out of high school, a quiet kid of 17 whose parents had to co-sign his contract until he was able to sign his own when he turned 18. He was so young the Lakers training staff needed permission from his mother to treat him with medication.
At the time, few in Los Angeles thought anyone would assume Magic Johnson’s mantle, he of the “Showtime” Lakers and incandescent smile.
In fact, Bryant was always more Michael Jordan than Johnson. Bryant’s killer instinct, tireless work ethic and intolerance for giving anything less than the best in practice and games most closely hewed to the attitude of his idol Jordan.
Still, Bryant’s audacity appealed to laid-back Angelenos. At times, it clashed with Shaquille O’Neal, who shared an uneasy spotlight with Bryant while winning three NBA championships from 2000 to 2002.
It wasn’t until O’Neal was traded away in 2004 that Bryant took over as the Lakers’ cornerstone, and Johnson endorsed him as a worthy successor. Bryant became his era’s Jordan to his fellow players, while segueing into a beloved icon, embraced across his adopted city.
“He grew up there,” Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. “He grew up and matured and changed and evolved. I’m sure they felt like they grew up with him.”
Away from the court, Bryant briefly fell from grace in 2003 after being accused of sexual assault at a Colorado hotel. He lost sponsors and fans and his reputation was tarnished. The case was eventually dropped, and Bryant and his accuser settled her civil suit against him.
There were other personal problems. Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, filed for divorce in 2011, but they reconciled a year later. There were disagreements with his parents, too. They initially opposed his marriage and didn’t attend the wedding. Bryant’s mother tried to auction memorabilia of his in 2013, and he successfully challenged her.
Those stumbles only served to humanize Bryant among his fans. If they could have relationship and family problems, so could he.
Some of Bryant’s most storied moments occurred inside Staples, where he scored 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006, second-most in NBA history. He led the Lakers to two more NBA titles, parading the trophy past thousands of rapturous fans in the streets.
Bryant was in the news less than 24 hours before his sudden death. Current Laker LeBron James overtook him as the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer during a road game in Philadelphia. Once famously competitive, Bryant had grown comfortable in the elder statesman’s role, and his last tweet congratulated James on the achievement.
Long before he retired, Bryant and his wife started a foundation with the goal of helping families and children. Bryant said he was prompted to act after seeing homeless people in the streets outside the arena on his way home to Orange County from games.
“He wasn’t just an athlete,” fan Jason Ackerman said outside Staples. “He gave the city hope.”
Ackerman said he was saddened about not being able to see what else Bryant would have done, whether it was in film, charity or owning a local sports team.
Bryant further blurred the lines between sports and entertainment after injuries hastened the end of his playing days in 2016. He immediately switched his laserlike focus to his love of storytelling in film, books and online.
“He was so intense about business,” Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin said. “He would ask 50 different questions in a day about how could he win in business.”
It didn’t take long for Bryant to make an impact in Hollywood. He won an Oscar for best animated short two years ago as a producer of “Dear Basketball,” based on a poem Bryant wrote before he retired from the court.
He launched Granity Studios, a multimedia company that creates content for young adults. He had begun a publishing career as well. Last year was the debut of his young adult book series that mixed fantasy and sports.
“Kobe’s death is especially wrenching knowing what he was capable of and what he might have accomplished in his post-NBA life,” said Arn Tellem, Bryant’s former longtime agent. “He was already well on his way.”
Steven and Diana Brugge joined the throng outside Staples in their matching Bryant jerseys.
“He was the soul of LA,” Steven Brugge said. “He meant so much to this city, and not just because he won championships.”
Brugge admired the way Bryant carried himself as a person and a professional: “That’s the kind of guy you want representing your city.”
When he wasn’t working, Bryant would pop up at women’s pro and college basketball games in Los Angeles, often with 13-year-old Gianna in tow. The second oldest of Bryant’s four daughters took up her father’s sport, and he proudly coached her AAU team. He talked up the women’s game, too, giving it a boost.
At Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, not far from the crash site, Renee Tab arrived with her young son, carrying purple and yellow flowers.
“We love Kobe Bryant,” she said. “He is quintessentially LA. Our LA hero, our LA legend.”
Perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio summed it up best.
“LA will never be the same,” the actor tweeted.