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The son of American basketball icon Shaquille O'Neal has revealed that Kobe Bryant reached out to him just hours before his fatal helicopter crash, having shared screenshots of a series of messages from the late sportsman - who regularly 'checked in' on him to see if he was doing okay.
Taking to Instagram in the wake of Bryant's death, Shareef O'Neal explained how the former NBA star had regularly checked in on him amid his health struggles, as the college basketball player once feared injury could flag the end of his sports career.
And it transpires that this included the morning of the crash, with a screenshot showing Bryant had messaged him at 8.19am - less than two hours before the crash - asking: "You good fam?"
Shareef lamented the fact that he had slept in, meaning by the time he replied at 10.58am, he was too late.
Shareef also shared examples of other messages, including one from November 2018, in which Bryant wrote: "Just checking in on you. How you feelin'?"
He added: "I will check in again down the road. If you need ANYTHING just give me a shout."
Sharing the heartbreaking screenshots alongside photos of himself and Bryant, Shareef wrote on Instagram: "This first picture were messages from THIS MORNING!!! I wish I didn't sleep in so I could've talked to you.
"I can't even think straight right now. I'm glad we got to bond over the years. Not only were you a great uncle, you were a coach and a mentor to me too.
"I love you man. Thank you for everything you've done... For this city, for the basketball world, and for me. I won't let you down.
"You always counted on me and lifted me up. Love you unc."
Sharing them again an hour later, he added: "I'm crying while reading these messages over. Even when I was at my worst you checked in on me so often. I really appreciate you for that because I needed that so much.
"I was so defeated sittin' in that hospital everyday and I thought my basketball life was over. You brought a smile to my face.
"Thank you. Love you."
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter were confirmed as victims on a fatal helicopter crash in California yesterday.
A call for a downed helicopter went out at 10.01am, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.
Emergency services attended the scene and put out the fire, with LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby saying the crash had ignited a quarter-acre brush fire in steep terrain.
"Our firefighters hiked into the accident site with their medical equipment and hose lines to extinguish the stubborn fire as it included the brush fire ... and the helicopter," Osby said during a news conference on Sunday afternoon.
"The fire also included magnesium, which is very hard for firefighters to extinguish because magnesium reacts with oxygen and water."
Police also confirmed to the media that all nine people believed to be on board had died in the crash.
As of yet, the cause of the crash is not known.
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