Shaquille O’Neal is grieving the loss of his sister Ayesha Harrison-Jex, 40, who succumbed to cancer last Thursday, three years after she was first diagnosed.
The tributes and words of support and encouragement have poured in for the retired NBA star. His Inside the NBA colleagues offered condolences on Thursday’s episode and explained to viewers why O’Neal wasn’t in his co-hosting seat, PEOPLE reports.
“We have to tell you why you’re not seeing Shaquille O’Neal here on the set tonight,” co-host Ernie 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,” he explained.
“Big Fella, you hang in there.”
Ernie, Kenny, Charles & Commissioner Silver’s thoughts are with the O’Neal family pic.twitter.com/5yUtdhjWkZ
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) October 24, 2019
“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 and O’Neal, along with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, round out the TNT’s Inside the NBA roundtable.
“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 offered his support for the O’Neal 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.”
O’Neal responded to the barrage of love and support.
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.
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) October 25, 2019
Shaq’s sister, Harrison-Jex leaves behind a son, Bryce, according to Johnson. She was also a Florida A&M University graduate, having earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Her final resting place will reportedly be next to O’Neal’s stepfather, Sgt. Phillip Harrison, in a military cemetery.