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Shaquille O’Neal is known for his jovial side. He laughs and jokes in his new docuseries Shaq Life and in his work on TNT’s coverage of the NBA, regularly taking shots at Charles Barkley.

In an interview with Conan O’Brien, O’Neal admitted the last six months have been especially tough dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, coping with the death of his younger sister and his former teammate Kobe Bryant, and how he won’t be able to watch the 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony because it will be too painful without Kobe’s presence.

Shaquille O’Neal mourns loss of Kobe Bryant

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s contentious relationship has been well documented. The two superstar players regularly butted heads in their years playing together with the Los Angeles Lakers. Often times O’Neal grew frustrated with what he perceived to be Bryant’s selfish play and unwillingness to share the ball with his teammates.

It got so bad in 2000, just a few months removed from winning their first NBA title together, O’Neal offered $10,000 to Isaiah Rider to start a fight with Bryant. While the pair never fully resolved their differences during their playing careers, once O’Neal retired and the competitive spirit and drive subsided, the two grew closer. 

O’Neal spoke of his love for his teammate at Bryant’s memorial service. He said despite their differences, there was a mutual respect for one another, and they always pushed each other to be better, which ultimately benefitted the team as they won three titles together. 

O’Neal loses his sister to cancer

In October 2019, Shaquille O’Neal’s sister Ayesha Harrison-Jex, died at the age of 40 after battling cancer. She had fought the disease since 2016.

O’Neal has always said his life revolved around his brother and two sisters. He grew up with Ayesha since the age of two, when his mother Lucille married Phillip Harrison, a sergeant who O’Neal always attributed as the one who taught him how to be a man and a professional.

Shaquille O’Neal, who was the oldest sibling, watched over Harrison-Jex as she grew up.

“He was either taking care of us or entertaining us,” she wrote in Shaq Talks Back, a biography on O’Neal. “Shaquille taught us how to play basketball. He taught us how to swim. All four of us used to just hang together.”

Harrison-Jex was buried in a military cemetery next to her father. 

O’Neal shut himself off from world after Kobe’s death

In his wide-ranging interview with Conan O’Brien, the normally smiling and joking O’Neal took on a serious tone to start the conversation when the host asked him about everything that’s happened in his life in recent months.

“This is my toughest year, and I don’t complain about anything. I lost my baby sister. I lost my good friend who I’ll be forever linked. A lot of people are losing their lives. A lot of people are filing for unemployment. It’s just a tough year.”

Shaquille O’Neal said social media, DVDs, and YouTube have helped him get through the challenging times by allowing him to reflect on those special moments with his sister and Kobe.

“When he first passed away, I couldn’t believe it. I watched every playoff game that we ever played. I just sat in my room. I told people I don’t want to talk to anybody. I’m just like looking at him okay, it can’t be true. He’s right there on the screen, and I’m watching.”

Shaquille O’Neal

O’Neal said the recent announcement of Bryant’s Hall of Fame induction was bittersweet, and he won’t be able to watch the ceremony considering the circumstances. 

“I probably won’t watch that because it’s not going to be the same without him. The only way I’ll watch it is if his beautiful wife gives his speech or his mother or father gives the speech on his behalf. If I had two wishes, I’d wish he was there, and I wish I could take my sister to the ceremony to watch him being inducted.”

Despite all the tragedy and sadness Shaquille O’Neal has endured the last few months, he concluded the interview with O’Brien on a lighter note. He told the late-night host he misses his annoying best friend Charles Barkley and looks forward to seeing him in the future so he can rub in the fact that Charles doesn’t have any rings.