Shaq, West in tears as Kobe honored in tribute


LOS ANGELES — An emotional Shaquille O’Neal broke down in tears Tuesday, knowing that he won’t be able to have another conversation with Kobe Bryant or celebrate his former teammate’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” O’Neal said during a TNT tribute to Bryant on the Staples Center floor, where he was joined by Dwyane Wade, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson, Reggie Miller and Jerry West.

“We, our names will be attached together for what we did. People always ask about our relationship, and I tell them it’s just like me and Charles [Barkley]. You got two strong-minded people that are going to get it done that way … going to say certain things, but the respect will never be lost, but when it comes to being inside the lines and winning, that is what me and him, that is what we did.”

O’Neal continued as tears streamed down his face.

“The fact that we are not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony, the fact that we are not going to be able to say, ‘Ha, I got five. You got four [championships],'” said O’Neal, whose sister, Ayesha Harrison-Jex, died of cancer in October. “The fact that we are not going to be able to say if we would have stayed together, we could have gotten 10 … those are the things you can’t get back. With the loss of my father and my sister … that is the only thing I wish, I could just say something to them again.”

Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others died in a helicopter crash on Sunday in Calabasas, California. Determining what caused the crash will take months, federal investigators said Tuesday.

O’Neal said he was working out with his son and nephew when another nephew came in crying and showed him the news on a cellphone. O’Neal said he initially snapped at his nephew to get the phone out of his face, believing the report was a hoax.

“I can never imagine nothing like that,” O’Neal said. “I have never seen anything like this. All the basketball idols I grew up, I see them, they’re old … The fact that we lost probably the world’s greatest Laker, world’s greatest basketball player … people say take your time and get better. But it’s going to be hard for me.”

A devastated West, his eyes bloodshot due to crying, said he will never get over Bryant’s death.

“Saddest day of my life,” West said. “I lost a brother in Korea is the only thing that compares to this to me … I had a special relationship with [Bryant]. No one knows the intimate talks I had with him. No one knows. Even people close to him, they don’t know the conversations I had with him. They don’t know the conversations I had with him when I was working in Memphis. We still communicated.”

The man who orchestrated the trade that brought Bryant to the Lakers revealed how he advised him to not join the LA Clippers when the All-Star wanted to leave as a free agent in 2004. West was working for the Memphis Grizzlies at the time and is now a consultant for the Clippers.

“I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers, and I never really mentioned this to anyone,” said West, the Grizzlies’ general manager from 2002 to ’07. “He was going to come and sign with the Clippers, whom I am now involved with as a consultant. And I told him, Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.

“And he was mad at everyone at the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said, you can’t go play with the Clippers. You can’t play for that owner [Donald Sterling] — period. We had two conversations about it. And he supposedly made a commitment to the Clippers, and we talked [one] last time.

“But there are so many things we talked about. He was just seeking information [constantly]. I honestly felt like his father for two years. … I don’t know if I can get over this ever.”

While with the Lakers, O’Neal won three consecutive championships alongside Bryant (2000 to ’02). He said that since Sunday he has been in touch with Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss and executive director/special projects Linda Rambis, and he said the organization is struggling to cope.

“My condolences go out to his family, his mom and dad and sister and other families, everybody involved,” O’Neal said. “Lakers organization, I talked to Jeanie and Linda, people here are hurting, especially this organization. Some people have to get [counseling] treatment. Some people don’t understand. I didn’t want to believe it.

“I hoped some buttface made this up and it’s not true. I didn’t want to believe it …. my spirit just left my body. I just wish I could be able to say one last thing to the people that we lost because once you’re gone, you are gone forever, and we should never take stuff like that for granted.”

Wade said he entered the league in 2003 idolizing Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Bryant. He told a story Tuesday about how he stole the ball, guessing one of Bryant’s moves in transition, and called it a moment he never forgot.

“I was scared as hell,” Wade said of playing Bryant for the first time. “He don’t remember the moment. But for me, it meant the world.”

Wade said he had to go to the gym Tuesday just to get out and be among people. He said he saw others in the gym, some wearing Bryant gear and others just staring off. He encouraged fans to mourn however they want and share their Bryant memories.

“Getting this news the other day, I think I have been in shock for two days, and this is the first moment where it actually feels real,” Wade said. “My body right now, I’m shaking. I’m numb.”

O’Neal, who said he spent the past few days watching video highlights of Bryant and himself, noted that in his eyes, there never will be a better center-guard duo in NBA history than Bryant and himself.

“When Kobe came, I sat him down and said, what do you want to be?” O’Neal said. “At 17, he said, ‘I am going to be the best player in the world, and off the court, I am going to be bigger than Will Smith.’ You know me, I’m like, slow down, slow down … it was fun. Our names will always be linked. We talk about who’s this and who’s that. I truly believe that we will be the most dominant big, little one-two punch ever.

“I still can’t believe it.”

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