Shaquille O’Neal Recalls His 'Toughest Year' After Pal Kobe Bryant's Death
By Paige Gawley
AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Shaquille O'Neal is opening up about a challenging period in his life. The 48-year-old former pro athlete appeared on Wednesday's episode of Conan via video and revealed that the past year has been the hardest in his life, due to the deaths of his sister, Ayesha Harrison-Jex, and Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, died in a helicopter crash in January, while O'Neal's sister lost her battle with cancer last year.
"This is my toughest year. And I don't complain about anything, but I lost my baby sister, I lost my good friend... and now people are losing their lives," he said, referencing the coronavirus pandemic. "A lot of people are filing for unemployment. Our neighbor who lives next door [has] been working for Disney for 30 years, got let go the other day. It's just a tough year."
Amid the challenges, O'Neal is grateful for social media, DVDs and YouTube.
"When he first passed away I couldn't believe it. I watched every playoff game that we ever played," he said of his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate. "I just sat in my room, I told people, 'I don't want to talk to anybody,' and I'm just looking at him like, 'OK, it can't be true because he's right there on the screen. I'm watching him.'"
O'Neal also noted that the April announcement that Bryant will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was bittersweet.
"I probably won't watch that because it's not going to be the same without him," he said of the August ceremony. "The only way I'll watch it is if his beautiful wife [Vanessa Bryant] gives a speech or if his mother or father gives a speech on his behalf."
"If I had two wishes, I'd wish that he was there and I'd wish that I could take my sister to the ceremony to watch him be inducted," O'Neal added.
When ET's Kevin Frazier spoke to O'Neal in January, he revealed the conversations he wished he could have with Bryant.
"It's tough because we won't get to have these conversations. I don't really wanna have these conversations with other people. I wanna have them with him," O'Neal said. "When I go to his Hall of Fame, I want to say, 'Congratulations.' When I go to his statue unveiling, I want to say, 'Congratulations.' Next time, I want him to say, 'A-ha! I got five, you got four.' Next time I see him, I want him to go, 'My daughter's 15, your daughter's 15.'"
"... I just wish that he was here to see it with us, but we will never, ever let him be forgotten," he vowed.