Shaquille O’Neal‘s sister Ayesha Harrison-Jex died three years after being diagnosed with cancer on Thursday, his colleagues announced on Thursday’s episode of TNT’s Inside the NBA. She was 40.
O’Neal’s co-host Ernie Johnson began Thursday’s episode by addressing the famous athlete’s absence. The basketball analysis program normally features O’Neal alongside Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.
“We have to tell you why you’re not seeing Shaquille O’Neal here on the set tonight,” Johnson began. “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.”
Johnson explained that Harrison-Jex had died “far too early” at the age of 40. She had been diagnosed with cancer three years ago. Harrison-Jex graduated with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Florida A&M University, and was also a mother to her son Bryce, according to Johnson. She will be laid to rest in a military cemetery and will be buried next to O’Neal’s stepfather, Sgt. Phillip Harrison.
“I’m trying to put into words the way Shaquille has reacted to this, and he’s struggling,” Johnson said. “And when he struggles, we struggle with him. Because he’s one of our brothers and we feel for him tonight.”
Johnson added that O’Neal, 47, is currently in Orlando, Florida, to be with his family. The basketball star responded to Thursday’s Inside the NBA episode on Twitter, writing, “Thanks for the condolences and the love. If I had older brothers, it would be you 3. Love y’all and love you more Candice.”
O’Neal’s other co-hosts also sent their condolences to his family.
“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.”
“He’s … the big family guy,” Smith added. “We always see his kids, his family always around. One of the most difficult things about being close to someone and working with them this many years — you get to know them and their family and their friends, so you hurt so much more just as much as you have the pain, just as much as you have the joy … That’s part of being a family, experiencing the joy and the pain.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also appeared on the show on Thursday to send love to O’Neal’s family.
“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.”
“Big Fella, you hang in there,” Johnson added.
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