Inside Kobe Bryant And Shaq's Relationship

Sports fans and athletes alike are grieving the loss of Kobe Bryant, who died Jan. 26, 2020 in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. According to TMZ, Bryant, 41, was one of nine people who died in the crash, including his own 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, Orange Coast College coach John Altobelli, and the pilot. The cause of the incident remains under investigation, although reports have mentioned foggy weather conditions on the morning of the crash.

Following the tragic news, fellow athletes have reacted with social media statements, jersey tributes, moments of silence, and more. Among those honoring the former Los Angeles Lakers legend is his old teammate, Shaquille O'Neal. While O'Neal and Bryant have a heated history, there was no lingering bad blood between these two fierce competitors. In fact, they became family, and O'Neal is one of many fans reeling from this terrible loss. 

Shaq posted a heartfelt tribute to Kobe Bryant

Shaquille O'Neal shared his thoughts on Kobe Bryant's death with photos and two gut-wrenching posts on Twitter: "There's no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of [losing] my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed," he wrote. "My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW." Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa Bryant, as well as daughters Bianka, Natalia, and Capri.

In a second tweet, O'Neal posted more photos and wrote, "Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common. I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me'Arah." Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna (aka GiGi) was an aspiring basketball player herself. Her dad even called her the "Mambacita" as a nod to his own nickname, the Black Mamba, per The Wall Street Journal.

Shaquille and Kobe had highs and lows on and off the court

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal won three NBA championships for the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s, but that doesn't mean it was always smooth sailing between these two ballers. According to Business Insider, their time as teammates was plagued with insults hurled at one another in the media, as well as other disagreements. When O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004, the feud didn't end there, per the New York Post.

In 2019, their dicey dynamic made headlines anew when Bryant joked that the Lakers would have won more championship rings if O'Neal trained harder (per USA Today). "Me and Shaq sit down and talk all the time and I always say: 'Dude, if your lazy ass was in shape,'" Bryant said. He did acknowledge, however, that Shaq "was a force like I have never seen." In response, O'Neal reportedly posted on Instagram: "U woulda had twelve [championships] if u passed the ball more especially in the Finals against the Pistons #facts." 

Soon after, the guys cleared the air on Twitter. Bryant tweeted: "There is no beef with @SHAQ I know most media want to see it but it ain't gonna happen. Ain't nothin but love there and we too old to beef anyway #3peat." O'Neal responded, "It's all good bro, when I saw the interview, I thought you were talking about Dwite, is that how u spell his name lol." 

No matter what he-said, he-said drama happened over the years, the two had officially buried the hatchet.

Shaquille O'Neal publicly apologized to his frenemy

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant publicly made amends when sitting down for a Player's Only chat on TNT in February 2018. Per The Washington Post, O'Neal offered an apology to Bryant during the conversation and owned up to any wrongdoing. After reminiscing about the 2009 All-Star Game where they were both named MVPs, O'Neal recalled, "You told me to take the trophy home. I took it home and gave it to [my son] Shareef. I realized then that I may have messed something up. Because a lot of times that our beef was going on, you know me, I'm the master of marketing. About 60 percent of the time, I was just saying to keep it going." He also added, "I owe you an apology. I'm going to give you an apology, but we're not going to be doing all that crying like Magic [Johnson] and Isiah [Thomas]." O'Neal acknowledged how much that trophy meant to him and his son.

Later in the same interview, O'Neal deemed their pairing "the best." Shaq said, "We're the enigmatic, no one could figure us out, most controversial. When it come down to step on the court, [we were] the most dominant one-two punch, little-big ever created in the game." 

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal became family

Kobe Bryant checked in with Shaquille O'Neal's son, Shareef, via Instagram on the day he died. Shareef shared a screenshot of their interaction via Twitter. Bryant had asked how Shareef was doing following news that the 20-year-old was transferring to UCLA. "Literally this morning you reached out to me ....😔 I love you forever unc❤️ I love you," Shareef tweeted. He added, "You've really been there for me all 20 years of my life ... been there for me since I was born .. love you." Shareef also shared love for Bryant's daughter, Gianna, whom he called his "cousin." 

Shaq also acknowledged their families' close bond in his own tweets, referring to Bryant as his brother. "I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me'Arah."

While Bryant and Shaq had their ups and downs, that's an inevitable part of any friendship — especially friends who are like family. No matter what drama they went through, it only made their bond stronger, and it's clear that O'Neal will do what he can to continue to honor his late teammate's memory.