Former NBA player and longtime friend of Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, is heartbroken with the rest of the world.
Both men shared a love for basketball and a passion for encouraging that same dedication in young female athletes.
The news Sunday seemed unreal to O’Neal.
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“A friend of mine called me and said, ‘is it true about Kobe?’ I said what do you mean?” said O’Neal.
Jermaine O’Neal had just spoken to his friend Kobe Byrant on the phone Friday.
“We laughed a little bit about where we were. Just kind of how things have panned out for us individually,” he said.
He said Bryant looked forward to coaching his athletes at the Mamba Sport Academy.
“His voice always lit up when it came to talking about his daughter and then the game of basketball for females,” O’Neal said. “He wanted to really test his daughter and her teammates.”
O’Neal wanted the same for athletes at his academy, Drive Nation - based in Dallas.
“We had committed to doing a home and away series for girls,” he said.
In fact, the Drive Nation girls’ basketball team attended Sunday’s tournament in California. It was the tournament that Bryant, his daughter and seven others never made it to.
“I must’ve talked to my wife nearly 20 times yesterday just trying to bring sense to it,” O’Neal said. “I started feeling sick though.”
O’Neal and Bryant were in the same draft class, straight out of high school into the NBA. They had a bond.
“And if he was in town and we were playing the Clippers he would invite me over the house, mom cooked dinner,” O’Neal said.
As he tried to process the loss, O’Neal focused in on what the world gained.
“He was just different. He was a gift from God. He’s one of those once in a lifetime type of people that expects excellence on every single thing that he does.”