"Kobe was truly a gifted and intelligent student of the game. I remember him saying, 'These guys are playing checkers and I'm out here playing chess,'" said O'Neal, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers with Bryant from 1996-2004. "I could tell you that what filled Kobe's heart with the most pride was his role as a loving husband to Vanessa, daddy to Gigi, Natalia, Bianka and baby Capri, and [being] a loving son and brother. Kobe was a loyal friend and a true renaissance man."
"Kobe and I pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all time and I am proud that no other team has accomplished what the three-peat Lakers have done since the Kobe and Shaq Lakers," he continued. "Mamba, you were taken away from us way too soon. The next chapter of life was just beginning. Now it's time for us to continue your legacy ... just know that we got your back, little brother. I'll look out for things down here."
Bryant was drafted to the Lakers in 1996 and played with the team for all 20 years of his professional basketball career until announcing his retirement in 2016. He won five NBA Championships during that time, three of which were won consecutively with O'Neal (2000-2002).
Despite having some tension with each other while playing for the Lakers, Bryant and O'Neal appeared to make amends when the Lakers played the Miami Heat in 2006. Bryant and Shaq (who was traded to the Heat in 2004) shook hands and hugged it out before the game. They reunited again as teammates (and co-MVPs) for the NBA All-Star Game in 2009.
"As most of you know, Kobe and I had a complicated relationship throughout the years," O'Neal acknowledged during the memorial, comparing their dynamic to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. "We never took it seriously. In truth, Kobe and I always maintained a deep respect and love for each other."
Recalling a time teammates asked him to confront Bryant about not passing the ball, O'Neal remembered, "I said, 'There's no I in team,' and he said, 'Yeah, but there's an M-E in motherf**ker.'" Promising to teach Bryant's daughters all of his moves -- "but not my free-throw techniques" -- he ended, "Kobe, you're heaven's MVP."
As ET previously reported, Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were laid to rest in a private funeral held at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona Del Mar, California. The funeral took place two weeks after they died in a helicopter crash alongside seven others -- Alyssa Altobelli, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.
"Vanessa and the family wanted a private service to mourn their loss," a source told ET at the time. "The ceremony was extremely hard for everyone as it's still hard for them to grasp they lost two beautiful souls."
When ET spoke with O' Neal back in January, at Shaq's Fun House Big Game Weekend Party in Miami, he opened up about the "one last thing" he wishes he could say to 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," he shared. "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.'"
"As you see, I'mma do it very well here tonight. I'mma just take care of those families, and we also need to have the conversation about them, too," he continued. "'Cause, Kobe, Gigi, of course they're important, but everybody's important. So, my condolences go out to all the other families."