Shaquille O'Neal draws big laughs with 'I in team' story at memorial for Kobe and Gianna Bryant

Monday’s memorial honoring the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant featured somber moments and emotional remembrances from those who knew and loved them as friends, teammates and family members.

It also lived up to its billing as a “celebration of life,” with speakers sharing personal insights and stories that highlighted the best of both, often drawing smiles and laughter from the thousands in attendance at Staples Center.

The day Kobe gained Shaq’s respect

Perhaps no moment drew a bigger laugh than the final speech of the day that came from Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe’s teammate on three NBA championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Shaq shared a story from his early days playing with Kobe where he learned an important lesson on Mamba Mentality.

“The day Kobe gained my respect, the guys were complaining, said ‘Shaq, Kobe’s not passing the ball,’” O’Neal said. “I said ‘I’ll talk to him.’

“I said ‘Kobe. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team.’’ Kobe said, ‘I know, but there’s an ‘M-E’ in there mother f---er.’ I went back and told Rick [Fox] and Big Shot Bob [Horry], ‘just get the rebound. He’s not passing.’”

O’Neal immediately flashed his trademark smile as cameras cut to Magic Johnson falling over with laughter.

O’Neal also used his time at the podium to give insight into his and Kobe’s relationship during the tumultuous days that led to the breakup of the dynasty they built as O’Neal eventually left the Lakers in a trade to the Miami Heat.

Shaquille O'Neal honored Kobe Bryant in the way only he could at Monday's memorial service. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Shaquille O'Neal honored Kobe Bryant in the way only he could at Monday's memorial service. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

‘Let’s go whoop some ass’

“Make no mistake, even when 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,’” O’Neal said. “We never took it seriously. In truth, Kobe and I always maintained a deep respect and love for one another.”

Since Kobe’s death in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, O’Neal has expressed regret over not spending more time with him after their days playing together.

On Monday, he spoke of continuing Kobe’s legacy and seeing him in another life.

“Just know that we’ve got your back, little brother,” O’Neal said. “I’ll look after things down here. I’ll be sure to teach Natalia, Bianca and baby Capri all your moves. I promise I will not teach them my free throw techniques.

“For now, I take comfort in the fact as we speak that Kobe and Gigi are holding hands walking to the nearest basketball court. Kobe will show her some new Mamba moves today, and Gigi soon masters them. Kobe, you’re heaven’s MVP. I love you, my man. Until we meet again.”

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