The crew of Inside the NBA opened up about the death of Kobe Bryant in an interview with Today Show‘s Craig Melvin published on Friday.
Hosted by Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, Inside the NBA has become one of the most popular shows on television, largely thanks to the humor and chemistry between the foursome.
But things took a serious turn last month when Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others died in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
“It was very hard,” O’Neal, 47, told Today‘s Melvin of hearing about Bryant’s death. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. I was at the house the day it happened, and my son brought me the thing, and you know how the internet is.”
“[I said] ‘Stop playing with me. Get out of my face with that right now. Just stop.’ And then I got the calls,” he added.
O’Neal won three championships alongside Bryant while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Though the Los Angeles Lakers postponed their game the Tuesday after the tragedy, Inside the NBA filmed an episode from Staples Center that night.
Along with their guests, the crew all shared how the late athlete made an impact in their respective lives. O’Neal was visibly upset throughout the episode.
“I lost a sister couple months back,” he told Today. “Never imagined that my little sister would be gone before me, and then to have a guy who helped me become as big as I am. We will always be forever linked.”
Barkley said, even though he didn’t know Bryant well, he was still shaken when he heard the news of the crash. “I just started crying when I got the news,” the 56-year-old said. “I felt like I had lost a member of my family.”
While O’Neal and Bryant had a complicated relationship on and off the court, the former said the success they shared overshadowed any perceived problems.
“So a lot of people thought we had problems,” O’Neal said. “It wasn’t real-life problems. Same problems me and Charles have, same problems me and Kenny have when we are at work”
“But the key thing that we always had for each other was respect,” he continued. “Because I always tell people, after we won our first championship, who’s the little guy that jumped in my arms? Roll the tape. Once we figured it out, that’s all that mattered to me.”
If you would like to help the families of the victims of the crash, consider donating to the Mamba on Three Fund. Contributions to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation will help support youth sports.