Shareef O’Neal - son of Kobe Bryant’s longtime teammate Shaquille O’Neal - has revealed the final text messages he received from Kobe before his death.
Bryant was among nine people who were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday outside of Los Angeles, news that sent the sports world into shock.
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Tributes are pouring in from across the globe for Bryant, who died at age 41 on his way to his daughter’s basketball game.
Shareef was among those paying tribute, sharing a screenshot of an Instagram direct message between him and Bryant from Sunday morning, just hours before Bryant died.
In the messages Shareef showed how he was trying to organise a catch-up with Bryant.
Literally this morning you reached out to me ....😔 I love you forever unc❤️ I love you pic.twitter.com/3oVgvKKUkm— Shareef O’Neal (@SSJreef) January 26, 2020
Shareef then shared a tribute to Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who was also killed in the crash.
GIGI❤️ love you cousin— Shareef O’Neal (@SSJreef) January 26, 2020
Shareef played in 13 games for UCLA this season, however announced this week that he is leaving the university.
The former four-star recruit missed his freshman season last year and had to redshirt after he was diagnosed with a right anomalous coronary artery and had to undergo open-heart surgery.
Wait...— Shareef O’Neal (@SSJreef) January 26, 2020
Can’t be real .. please don’t be real .. please don’t be real— Shareef O’Neal (@SSJreef) January 26, 2020
Shaq shared a tribute to Bryant on Twitter on Sunday afternoon, too.
“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy of losing my niece Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed,” Shaq wrote on Twitter.
“My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW.”
There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/pigHywq3c1— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020
Kobe mourned across all sports
US President Donald Trump, Usain Bolt, Tom Brady, Whoopi Goldberg, Lennox Lewis, Andy Murray and Justin Bieber are among those to pay their respects to the five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star on social media.
Bryant, regarded as one of the best players of all time, represented the Los Angeles Lakers for all of his 20-year career and also won two Olympic gold medals before retiring in 2016.
"That is terrible news!" Trump said on Twitter of the tragedy near Clabasas on Sunday, which has also claimed the lives of eight others including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
Joel Embiid, a three-time NBA All-Star playing for Bryant's hometown team the Philadelphia 76ers, said he took up basketball after watching "legend" Bryant in action and wanted to emulate him.
The Cameroon-born centre wrote: "Man I don't even know where to start. I started playing ball because of KOBE after watching the 2010 finals. I had never watched ball before that and that finals was the turning point of my life. I WANTED TO BE LIKE KOBE. I'm so FREAKING SAD right now!!!! RIP LEGEND"
Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tweeted: "Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete."
Former record-breaking Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt tweeted: "Still can't believe" along with a photo of him with Bryant.
Tom Brady, the six-time Super Bowl winner, wrote: "We miss you already Kobe"
Shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who won three NBA titles with the Miami Heat and was a team-mate of Bryant's with the United States, wrote: "Nooooooooooo God please No!"
Team USA wrote: "We are deeply saddened by the loss of two-time Olympic champion Kobe Bryant. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones."
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis put a picture of Bryant on his Twitter account simply accompanied by the word "Heartbroken".
Three-time grand slam tennis champion Andy Murray also paid tribute to Bryant, saying on an Instagram story "This has hit me hard", while adding "Thinking of all his family, friends and colleagues."
At the Staples Centre in LA, the home venue of the Lakers, people were already leaving tributes in memory of Bryant at lunch time on Sunday.
The National Basketball Players Association says it is stunned and devastated by the news of Bryant's death.
"Words cannot express his impact on our players, the NBA and the game of basketball," it tweeted.
"This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken."