We broke the story ... Kobe has offered to personally mentor Shareef O'Neal -- a high school superstar who's already received scholarship offers from some pretty huge schools. Shareef told us he's pumped about it.
And so is Rick ... who was a part of those legendary Lakers teams with Shaq and Kobe, and knows firsthand how bad things got between the two of them.
But that's why Rick says it's so special to see Kobe reaching out -- saying Mamba's gesture shows how much respect the two really have for each other.
"It warmed my heart to see that."