The TNT “Inside the NBA” set took a break from basketball on Thursday night for a touching tribute and message.
Ayesha Harrison-Jex, Shaquille O’Neal’s sister, died Thursday after a three-year fight with cancer. She was 40. O’Neal was not on the show, and Ernie Johnson explained his absence at the onset.
“We have to tell you why you’re not seeing Shaquille O’Neal here on the set tonight,” Johnson said. “Basically, the ‘Big Fella,’ who I’ve described as ‘the biggest kid in the world,’ his heart is breaking tonight. He said his world revolves around his brother and two sisters. And he lost one of his sisters this morning.”
O’Neal, 47, did not know his biological father growing up and was raised by his stepfather, Sgt. Philip A. Harrison, who was Harrison-Jex’s biological father. She graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s from Florida A&M and has a son, Bryce, Johnson said on the broadcast. He said she’ll be laid to rest in a military cemetery next to her father, who died in 2013.
O’Neal was in Orlando, Florida, to be with his family, Johnson said. O’neal’s other sister is Lateefa and his brother is Jamal.
TNT colleagues send O’Neal condolences
As Johnson delivered his final thoughts on O’Neal and his sister, Charles Barkley jumped in to share his condolences for O’Neal’s mother, Lucille.
“I want to just give a special shout-out to his mom, Miss Lucille, who was best friends with my mom,” Barkley said. “When my mom passed away, she came and spent her last few days with my mom. So I just want to give Miss Lucille a hug and tell her I love her. What she did for my mom at the end … I can never thank them enough, and I feel for her and Shaquille. And the rest of the family also.”
Kenny Smith also offered thoughts, mentioning that O’Neal’s children and family are always running with Smith’s family, and they’ve all come to know each other. He said being around and working so close with someone means becoming a bigger family.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who was on the broadcast, shared his thoughts for the O’Neal family as well as the TNT one.
“We always talk about the NBA as a family and it’s times like this where we’re together and we’ve all known Shaq’s mom, Lucille, since he came into the league and I met his sister many times,” Silver said. “So from everyone at the league, but me personally, my condolences to Shaq ... to his family and I know for all of you, you’re hurting because you’re all so close to each other.”
O’Neal thanked his “older brothers” on Twitter.
Johnson fittingly closed the moment with a heartfelt, “Big Fella, you hang in there.”
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