Shaq Brought His Signature Humor-and Heart-to Kobe and Gigi Bryant's Memorial Service
In late January, after Kobe and Gigi Bryant died in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of seven other passengers, Kobe's teammates and friends almost immediately appeared on TV to share their memories of the Los Angeles Lakers star.
One of the most honest, heartbreaking, and memorable remembrances was from Shaquille O'Neal, who played with Kobe on the Lakers from 1996 to 2004, winning three championships during that time. Even though the two clashed at times during their playing careers, Shaq made peace and apologized to Kobe in 2018. And on TNT's hour-long special honoring Bryant, Shaq said, "I haven't felt pain that sharp in a while," and that he felt like he "lost a little brother."
On Monday afternoon, at Kobe and Gigi's memorial service at Los Angeles's Staples Center, Shaq was one of several people—including Vanessa Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Diana Taurasi—to take the stage to honor the late father and daughter. And O'Neal's speech was just as moving as his TNT memorial, bringing his signature heart and humor to those who knew the Bryants.
"Mamba, you were taken away from us way too soon," O'Neal said. "Your next chapter of life was just beginning, but now it's time for us to continue your legacy. You said yourself that everything negative—the pressure, the challenges—is all opportunity for me to rise. So we now take that sage advice to rise from anguish, and begin with the healing."
As many of the other speakers did, Shaq brought the crowd's spirits up with a bit of good-hearted humor, taking a self-deprecating jab at his legendarily poor free throw shooting skills.
"I'll look after things down here. I'll teach Natalia, Bianca, and baby Capri all your moves," he said. "And I promise I will not teach her my free throw techniques."
As he neared the end of his tribute, O'Neal offered a beautiful image: Kobe and Gigi Bryant, a father who was teaching his daughter everything he knew about the game he loved, walking hand in hand to the hardwood.
"But for now, I take comfort in the fact that as we speak, Kobe and Gigi are holding hands, walking to the nearest basketball court," he said.
Finally, capping off one of several tributes that spoke about Kobe's heart, hustle, and what he would have accomplished later in his life to the 20,000-plus people in attendance—O'Neal said goodbye.
"Kobe, you're heaven's MVP, I love you, my man—'til we meet again."
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.