Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal was absent from his normal spot co-hosting TNT’s Inside the NBA Thursday night because he was in Orlando with his family grieving the death of his sister, Ayesha Harrison-Jex.
An emotional Ernie Johnson broke the news on Inside the NBA at the start of the show, explaining that Harrison-Jex, 40, died Thursday morning after a three-year battle with cancer.
“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.”
Harrison-Jex earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida A&M and has one son, Bryce, Johnson told viewers. She will be laid to rest in a military cemetery alongside O’Neal’s stepfather, Phillip Harrison.
Charles Barkley also offered his condolences to O’Neal and his family, but made special mention of O’Neal’s mother, Lucille O’Neal, who spent time with Barkley’s mom before she passed away in 2015.
“I just want to give Ms. Lucille a hug and tell her I love her," Barkley said.
O’Neal is the oldest of four siblings. In addition to Harrison-Jex, the Hall of Famer has two younger siblings — a brother, Jamal O’Neal, and sister, Lateefah O’Neal. On Twitter Thursday night, O’Neal made it clear he thinks of his TNT colleagues as family as well.
“If I had older brothers, it would be you 3,” O’Neal wrote. “Love y’all and love you more Candice.”