Shaquille O’Neal’s son, Shareef, in 2018 took a break from basketball to undergo open-heart surgery after being diagnosed with an anomalous coronary artery. Now 23, the NBA G League player has opened up about going under the knife for the congenital heart defect and his emotions post-surgery and returning to basketball.
During his appearance on the Now For Later podcast, Shareef commended his parents for their support and also touched on a piece of fatherly advice that he cherishes, PEOPLE reported. Shareef’s father Shaq – a retired basketball legend – is said to have given him the advice after his son’s surgery.
Shareef said they were watching a basketball game when the NBA champion “just looked at me and was like, ‘don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something.'” The 23-year-old had to undergo the operation because an artery had grown at an incorrect spot.
“It sounds really simple, but at that time, it was like, oh yeah, whatever I believe I can do, I can do it. So, you know, I kind of stuck with that mindset too,” Shareef told the show’s host Eric Mika, adding that his father’s advice played a significant role as he was switching to professional basketball.
“I didn’t have the best college degree,” he said. “It wasn’t actually wasn’t good at all. But, you know, I wanted to go pro. I wanted to try it. I feel like, as an adult, you gotta go through trials and errors. Like it didn’t work, but keep trying something else.”
Shareef also touched on how important his father’s advice has been in the wake of the setbacks he has experienced as a result of his heart condition. “It’s basic advice, but I feel like I kind of stick with that every day,” he said. “If I want to do something or if I believe I can do something, I’m going to try it.”
Prior to his first workout after receiving the all-clear following the surgery, Shareef said he was “scared” and also knew his mom felt the same. “Right before I left, I gave her a big hug,” he added.
The 23-year-old also said that returning to competitive basketball after the surgery was “a huge step” and he remembered “the look on” his mother’s face before the workout”, PEOPLE reported. “I couldn’t even imagine what her nerves were like that whole time,” he added.
Elsewhere in the interview, Shareef touched on how his parents reacted to his decisions after the surgery. “I feel like both of my parents did a good job of letting me decide what to do next after doctors said he could return to the court.” “Whatever I said, they were going to be on board with it.”
He added that his parents “never said they were scared for me to play because I think they knew that would scare me.” “That’s something you don’t want to hear from your parents.”
Shareef, however, revealed he’s “still trying to” deal with the mental toll after recovering. “When the whole thing happened with Damar Hamlin, that just brought me back to 2018,” he said in reference to the NFL player’s January 2 cardiac arrest. “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. That’s something I’m still trying to work on.”
Shareef was on the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2022 Summer League roster, but a contract wasn’t tabled for him to remain on the team for the season. He ended up signing with the NBA G-League team Ignite.