What OJ Simpson's Relationship With Robert Kardashian Was Really Like

If you were alive and aware of current events in 1994, there's no way you've forgotten about it nearly three decades later. On June 17 of that year, much of the world paid close attention as O.J. Simpson – former NFL running back extraordinaire, star of "The Naked Gun" films, and longtime Hertz commercial spokesman — was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Five days before the football legend's arrest, the two were found stabbed to death outside Brown's Brentwood, California, home, and most signs were pointing to Simpson as the perpetrator of the horrific crime. The ensuing trial would prove to be extremely divisive in a number of ways, though on the lighter side of things, it somehow made celebrities out of several individuals, including prosecution witness Kato Kaelin, presiding judge Lance Ito, and multiple members of Simpson's defense team, including a lawyer named Robert Kardashian.

Nowadays, most of us recognize Kardashian as the late father of reality stars Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and Rob, but back in 1994, there was a lot of attention to his close ties with Simpson, whom he had been buddies with for quite some time. How and when did O.J. Simpson and Robert Kardashian become friends, how did their friendship progress in the decades that followed, and how did they become estranged in the last few years of Kardashian's life? Here's what these two men's friendship was really like.

Simpson and Kardashian first met at USC and became buddies a few years later

As reported by Slate, O.J. Simpson and Robert Kardashian first met around 1967, back when Simpson was the University of Southern California's eventual Heisman Trophy-winning running back and Kardashian was serving as the Trojans' "glorified" water boy. It's not clear how this would have been possible, but he and Simpson supposedly had "at best a fleeting acquaintance." (Putting this in context, the Los Angeles Times notes that Kardashian graduated from USC in 1966, the year before O.J. first played for the Trojans, then went on to study law at the University of California San Diego.)

Depending on whom you ask, the two men only became actual friends in 1969 or 1970. By that time, Simpson was starring for the NFL's Buffalo Bills while Kardashian was a rising young star in his own right as a lawyer and businessman. The pair were reintroduced to each other at a mutual friend's tennis court, and they hit it off right away. Simpson would later benefit from Kardashian's decision to stop practicing law and start working as an executive for the Music Corporation of America. The gridiron superstar inherited his friend's office, and some of the people who worked for Kardashian moved on to Simpson's employ. These included Leroy "Skip" Taft, whom Slate credited as the man who helped Simpson make the transition from mere celebrity athlete to "full-fledged entertainment personality" as his business manager and financial adviser.

The friendship extended to their significant others and business ventures

As the 1970s continued, O.J. Simpson and Robert Kardashian's friendship continued to grow, with the Los Angeles Times writing that the running back would spend his time in the offseason at a Beverly Hills bachelor pad shared by Kardashian and his older brother, Tom. As you'd expect from a group of young, affluent men living in the same pad, the trio reportedly threw their share of parties, which were regularly attended by scores of "attractive women," per the Times. 

When Simpson met Nicole Brown, the woman who would go on to become his second wife, in 1977, Kardashian was reportedly present. Likewise, Simpson was with Kardashian in 1978 when he met Kris Jenner (then known by her maiden name, Kris Houghton) for the first time. O.J. later served as an usher when the two got married, and it wasn't long before both couples — O.J. and Nicole, Robert and Kris — became inseparable. They were regulars at various nightspots and had several high-profile mutual friends from the worlds of sports and show business.

Meanwhile, Simpson and Kardashian partnered in a number of businesses, including Juice Inc., which operated frozen yogurt shops, and Concert Cinema, which kept viewers engaged by showing music videos in theaters before the start of movies (via Biography). 

The Kardashian kids saw Simpson as an uncle

In her 2011 memoir "Kris Jenner...and all things Kardashian," the so-called "momager" of the famous reality TV family talked in detail about the friendship between the Simpson and Kardashian families, noting (via Entertainment Weekly) that when her first daughter, Kourtney, was born in 1979, O.J. was there for her and her husband, visiting the couple at the hospital. As O.J. and Robert started families of their own, their friendship remained as strong as ever, and that, too, applied to the women in their lives. As explained by Biography, the Simpsons and Kardashians would take vacations together, and soon enough, Robert and Kris' kids had affectionate names for their parents' good friends: "Uncle O.J." and "Auntie Nicole."

By the time the 1990s rolled around, things were no longer as hunky-dory as they once were for the two power couples — Robert and Kris Kardashian divorced in 1991, while O.J. and Nicole Brown Simpson followed suit one year later. Per Screen Rant, Robert and Kris' split was quite messy due to the latter's infidelity. One month after their divorce, Kris tied the knot with Caitlyn Jenner, who happened to be friends with O.J. This effectively created a "new foursome," as Entertainment Weekly described it.

By most accounts, the divorces didn't seem to affect the Kardashian kids' relationship with the Simpsons, nor did they affect O.J. and Robert's friendship. That, however, would all change after June 17, 1994, that fateful day when O.J. was arrested ahead of what would become the so-called "Trial of the Century."

Kardashian was a loyal friend to Simpson after he was accused of murder

As O.J. Simpson found himself as the prime suspect in the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, Robert Kardashian stood by his side, preventing his friend from taking his own life (via Biography) and agreeing to join his defense team despite the fact he hadn't practiced law in 15 years. "I know O.J. better than anyone on the legal team," Kardashian explained, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. "There are so many things I know about his personality. My job is really strategy and liaison between the lawyers and O.J." 

Prior to that, the lawyer appeared on television to read the purported suicide note Simpson wrote before cops arrived at the Kardashian residence to arrest him. That was all happening as Simpson and his best friend, Al "A.C." Cowlings, were trying to flee from the law, with Cowlings driving his former Buffalo Bills teammate's white Ford Bronco across Los Angeles' freeways in the now-infamous televised police chase.

Speaking to The New York Times, author Larry Schiller, whose book "American Tragedy" touched on the behind-the-scenes drama Simpson's legal team faced, told the outlet that Kardashian agreed to help represent his longtime friend out of loyalty. ”He stood by O. J. irrespective of how he felt because he felt that nobody else was standing by O. J., not because of his innocence or guilt, but because there was a friendship there,” Schiller said.

Simpson saw Kardashian as a brother despite their ugly fallout

O.J. Simpson and Robert Kardashian's friendship crumbled one year after the Pro Football Hall of Famer was acquitted of the murder charges. As quoted by the Los Angeles Times, Kardashian said in a 1996 interview with Barbara Walters on ABC's "20/20" that he had his "doubts" regarding his friend's innocence. "The blood evidence is the biggest thorn in my side; that causes me the greatest problems," he clarified. "So I — I struggle with the blood evidence." Simpson, who was found liable for the deaths of Brown and Goldman in a February 1997 civil trial, did not take kindly to Kardashian's comments, ending a friendship that lasted more than two and a half decades and weathered several challenges along the way.

In 2000, Simpson took Kardashian to court over a miniseries based on Larry Schiller's book, titled "American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story on the Simpson Defense." According to the Associated Press, Simpson originally sued to halt production on the show, but when that failed, he took legal action instead against Schiller and Kardashian. He alleged that the author violated the privacy agreements he had with the disgraced athlete-turned-actor and that his former friend — who was a collaborating source for Schiller's book, per The New York Times — disclosed information protected by attorney-client privilege. The suit was ultimately thrown out in November 2000.

It doesn't appear that Simpson and Kardashian were able to reconcile prior to the latter's death in 2003. However, Simpson took to Twitter in June 2019 — almost 25 years to the date of his ex-wife's murder — to reveal that "Bob Kardashian was like a brother to me" and was a "great guy."