As great as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were individually, it’s almost impossible to discuss the basketball legacy of one of them without bringing up the other. They’ll be inextricably tied together forever. It’s why the three-peat teams of the early 2000’s are mostly just called the “Shaq and Kobe” Lakers. They were just that good as a pairing.
In a perfect world, Bryant’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 2020 would be no different. Shaq would be part of the proceedings, they’d lovingly rib and tease each other like they always do, and the whole night would be a big celebration of (in part) everything they accomplished together as arguably the best duo the NBA has ever seen.
But this world is far from perfect. Bryant won’t be there for his own Hall of Fame induction as a result of his tragic passing just a few months ago, and as a result, O’Neal said on the latest episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” that he doesn’t think he’ll be able to stomach watching Bryant get inducted:
“I’m actually not going to watch the Hall of Fame ceremony... Because it’s going to bring me, on a scale of sadness from 1-10, I’m finally at least at a 2, but that would bring me back to a 7, 8 or 9. I don’t want to see old highlights that I’m already watching now. It’d be great if his wife or if his mom and dad gave a speech, but I’m not going to watch the ceremony.”
Something tells me he’s not the only one who will have a hard time watching. None of us here were likely as close to Kobe as Shaq was, but all of us felt the pain when he was lost at just 41 years old. It’s turned Bryant’s highlights into an at times melancholy viewing experience, and his Hall of Fame induction from an appreciation of what got Bryant there into a bittersweet celebration of life.
So no one will judge Shaq if he can’t bring himself to watch. Everyone has to put their mental health first in situations like this, and he already poured his emotions out at Bryant’s memorial.
But as that memorial demonstrated, there is value in collective mourning and celebrating the legacy of someone. We all learned things about Bryant that we had never heard before that day, and while we all cried together, we all got to laugh together, too. If Bryant’s Hall of Fame induction can strike the same balance, maybe it won’t be so depressing. Maybe it will be just one more chance not to be sad about what’s gone, but to be happy we ever had it.
Grief is different for everybody, and everyone — Shaq included — will have to make a personal choice about whether or not they can handle watching that day. I think I can speak for everyone who grew up cheering for those teams when I say that I just hope he’s able to find peace, whether that comes from watching, participating in the ceremony, or tuning it out entirely.