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Shaq recalls friendship with Kobe Bryant nearly 1 year after his death

Bryant died in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
/ Source: TODAY

It's been nearly a year since Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash, and his longtime friend Shaquille O’Neal can hardly believe that the time has passed so quickly.

During an interview on the 3rd hour of TODAY on Thursday, Craig Melvin asked the NBA legend what the past year has been like for him since losing Bryant, and O'Neal replied that it's "still kind of hard."

"I redid my living room, redid my gym, his pictures are up on the wall," the 48-year-old said. "He was already a legend, he was already a guy that would never be forgotten, but he was definitely, definitely gone too soon."

O'Neal said he "didn't realize it was (already) a year" since Bryant's death and described their bond as "very enigmatic."

"I always say we were the most dominant one-two punch ever created. Enigmatic, controversial, having fun and there'll never be another like us," he explained.

The dynamic duo won three consecutive championships (from 2000-2002) while playing together for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996-2004. At one point during the past year, O'Neal had the opportunity to visit with Bryant's parents during a trip to Las Vegas and was happy to see they are finding ways to cope with the loss of their son.

"They're handling it very, very well. His mom and dad are wonderful, perfect people," he said.

As for Bryant's widow, Vanessa Bryant, O'Neal is keeping a close eye on her on social media.

"She seems to be in great spirits. Her daughters are growing up, they're turning into gorgeous young ladies. I'm just watching from afar," he explained.

Last February, O'Neal told TODAY that his teammate and friend always inspired him to do his best. So when he heard the news that Bryant was gone, he was understandably shocked.

"I lost a sister couple months back. 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," he said.

After Bryant's death, O'Neal was hesitant to host his annual Super Bowl party in February, but he decided to donate all the proceeds in his friend's honor to the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation and the families of those who died in the helicopter crash.

Just days after Bryant's death, O'Neal broke down during a television special honoring the late Lakers legend and said the experience had made him alter the way he looks at life.

“It really changes me,” he said. “I just really now have to take time and just call and say I love you … because you never know.”