“I wish we would have communicated more,” O’Neal, 47, revealed on his show The Big Podcast with Shaq Monday just one day after Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were tragically killed in a helicopter crash along with 7 others.
“That’s just how we are. Of course, when we saw each other it was love and respect and you know looking out for the kids. His daughter Gigi was a fabulous player. I just wish I could have talked to him before, that’s it,” O’Neal continued.
“I just wish he was here. I wish I could say something to him.”
Bryant’s death comes as O’Neal is still mourning the death of his sister Ayesha Harrison-Jex, who died of cancer in October.
“I’m not doing well. I’m sick. I’m just getting over the death of my sister… I didn’t do anything. I haven’t eaten. I haven’t slept. I’m looking at all of the tapes. But, I’m sick right now,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal also spoke of the dark side of his relationship with Bryant saying, “Our relationship was that of brothers.”
Bryant and O’Neal had a famously tumultuous relationship, and were frequent rivals while playing together for the Lakers.
Despite their tension, the team went to the NBA Finals four times between 2000 and 2004 and won three NBA championships in a row.
“When I saw Kobe and his daughters — I love them,” O’Neal said on his podcast. “He saw my kids. He loved them. If you look at my kid’s Instagram, he talked to Shareef yesterday morning. So, all of that stuff that was documented between us was never a dislike. I love Kobe Bryant.”
“We are still the best duo ever created,” O’Neal said of his former teammate. “That’s never going to change. For me, this is going to hurt a long time. I really lost a brother yesterday.”
Just hours after news of Bryant’s death broke, O’Neal shared a heartbreaking tribute, pulling together a series of photos from the duo’s time playing together on the Los Angeles Lakers.
“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie,” O’Neal wrote on Instagram. “I love you brother and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW!”
O’Neal’s son also spoke out, sharing the final conversation he had with Bryant on the morning of the horrific crash.
The note, sent over Instagram direct messages, had Bryant asking Shareef, “You good fam?”
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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 responded to Shareef’s message. His helicopter went down around 9:45 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.”
The NBA legend was reportedly traveling in his private helicopter when it went down, according to TMZ.
Emergency personnel responded but none of the nine people on board survived, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office said during a press conference.
Bryant and his daughter died alongside Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, John Altobelli and his wife Keri Altobelli and their daughter Alyssa Altobelli. The group was traveling to a basketball game, ESPN reported.
Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa, 37, and their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.