Shaq’s son opens up about his heart surgery and ‘scary’ return to hoops

His collegiate athletic journey at UCLA stalled amid the terrifying experience.

Shareef O’Neal is opening up about his open-heart surgery at age 18 and the advice from his NBA superstar father that inspired his professional basketball career. 

In a recent podcast appearance, O’Neal, 23, revealed that he dreams of one day being known for his ability to bounce back from major cardiac surgery, People reports. His collegiate athletic journey at UCLA stalled amid the terrifying experience. During recovery after undergoing an operation to treat a congenital heart defect, O’Neal said he received the best advice from his dad, Shaquille O’Neal. 

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
Shareef O’Neal of G League Ignite (left) responds to a question as teammate Leonard Miller (right) listens during a news conference following an exhibition game against Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 last Oct. 6 in Henderson, Nevada. O’Neal said he would like to be known for his ability to bounce back from heart surgery. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

Speaking on the “Now For Later” podcast, the young athlete said Shaq “just looked at me and was like, ‘don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something.'”

The NBA G League player told fellow teammate and podcast host Eric Mika that he has since “stuck with that mindset.”

Shaq’s words of wisdom helped his son transition into playing professionally, O’Neal told Mika.

Before joining the UCLA team, O’Neal was diagnosed with an anomalous coronary artery, which Stanford Health defines as an artery that is malformed or has an abnormality.

“It was hard because I was ranked the No. 1 player in California at the time in my class,” he shared on the podcast, according to Entertainment Tonight. “And I was going to a school in California. So, the momentum was going really steep, like up, up hill. Everybody was excited. When they told me, I honestly thought I wasn’t gonna be able to play basketball again. This all happened within about three weeks before the season is starting.”

Before turning pro, O’Neal played two seasons at LSU. Despite playing four games for the Los Angeles Lakers at the 2022 NBA Summer League, he did not receive a contract. Last year, O’Neal signed a six-figure deal with the NBA G League’s Ignite team in Nevada, theGrio reported.

Elsewhere in the podcast, O’Neal praised his parents’ handling of his health scare. 

“They never said they were scared for me to play because I think they knew that would scare me,” he explained, according to People. “That’s something you don’t want to hear from your parents.”

O’Neal also recalled being “scared” about his return to the game ahead of his first workout post-medical clearance. 

“It’s crazy cause I can go so long without thinking about it, and then if one little thing reminds me of it, it just brings it all back,” he said about having heart surgery. “That’s something I’m still trying to work on.”

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