“It doesn’t get any easier,” the NBA legend, 48, told Us Weekly exclusively on Thursday, October 8, while promoting American Express’ Business Class LIVE: Summit for Success. “But I’m coping.”
O’Neal added, “I talk to his sisters every now and then. They’re OK.”
The first anniversary of Bryant’s death is approaching next January. Earlier this year, Bryant died in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, at age 41. His second eldest daughter, Gianna, was also aboard the flight and died alongside seven other friends. He is survived by his longtime wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their children Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 15 months.
During part of Kobe’s 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he played alongside O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. They earned three NBA championships together in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Shortly after Kobe’s death, O’Neal admitted that he didn’t “believe” that his longtime pal had passed away. “I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” he said during TNT’s Remembering Kobe special. “[I’m] 47 years old. I lost two grandmothers. I lost a sarge, lost my sister, and now I lost a little brother. 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].”
O’Neal continued, “You got two strong-minded people that are going to get it done their way, that are going to say certain things. The respect will never be lost. When it comes to being inside the lines and winning, that’s what me and him did.”
The following month, O’Neal spoke at the Dear Basketball screenwriter’s public memorial held at the Los Angeles Staples Center — the same location where the Lakers play.
“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 said at the time. “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.”
These days, O’Neal is gearing up for American Express’ Business Class LIVE: Summit for Success, which takes place on October 20. The virtual event will bring together entrepreneurs from coast to coast. During the upcoming experience, the former basketballer will speak about his own growth as a businessman.
“Myself and American Express, we want to continue to support small businesses. Small businesses are the backbone of the country,” he told Us. “A lot of African American people own small businesses, and because of what’s going on [with COVID-19], a lot of people are losing everything. So, we just wanna show our support.”
With reporting by Christina Garibaldi