O’Neal, who played for the Lakers from 1996 to 2004, likened his “complex” relationship with his former teammate, who died last month in a helicopter crash, to that of John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles.
“Sometimes, like immature kids, we argued, we fought,” O’Neal told the crowd at Staples Center in Los Angeles. “We bantered or insulted each other with off-handed remarks. But, make no mistake, even when the folks thought we were on bad terms, when the cameras were turned off, he and I would throw a wink at each other and say, ‘Let’s go whoop some ass.’”
The most memorable point in the speech came, however, as O’Neal shared an anecdote about the day he said Bryant gained his respect.
“Kobe, there’s no ‘I’ in team,” O’Neal said, recalling a time when teammates were complaining that Bryant refused to pass the ball.
Bryant’s flippant reply, O’Neal said, was classic Kobe: “I know. But there’s an ‘M-E’ in that motherfucker.”
Watch an excerpt of Shaquille O’Neal’s speech below.
Noting that Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant were “taken away from us way too soon,” O’Neal said he found comfort in knowing the athlete and his daughter were “holding hands, walking to the nearest basketball court” together.
“Kobe, you’re heaven’s MVP,” he said. “I love you, my man.”
O’Neal’s words brought some laughter to an otherwise melancholy ceremony. Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, delivered emotional eulogies to both her husband and her daughter, while NBA legend Michael Jordan and talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel also honored the pair in speeches. Performers at the memorial included Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys.