Even though it was halftime, Bryant decided to stay in the locker room. He pre-taped a message to be played back to O’Neal and the crowd — a message nearly completely devoid of emotion, lasting under a minute.
“Amazing how time flies,” said Kobe via the video boards throughout Staples Center. “I send congratulations to you, the most gifted physical specimen I’ve ever seen play this game. What you have … meant to this city has been absolutely historical. I know you’ve played for other organizations, but you’ll always truly be remembered as playing for just one — here with the L.A. Lakers. Your number has been officially immortalized. Enjoy it.”
Jackson — who received a rousing ovation and deafening roars of “We want Phil”, was appreciative of what O’Neal meant to his team.
“I want to thank you for your dedication, your leadership and the hard work you put in.”
There had been speculation that O’Neal and Bryant might publicly end their years of animosity. It never happened, but there’s always the chance it will happen at Bryant’s retirement party — in a decade or so.