Shareef O’Neal says his dad, Shaq, is now on board after opposing proposed NBA decision

LAS VEGAS — As soon as he told reporters that he and his father, basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, were “bumping” over his decision to drop out of college and enter the NBA draft, Shareef O’Neal said he knew he made a mistake.

Young O’Neal, who had just signed an NBA summer league contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in July, called his father and offered his comments at his first NBA press conference; the elder O’Neal had not been informed of the signing. That moment, however, began a dialogue that strengthened their bond.

The younger O’Neal said Wednesday that his father is now on board with the decision.

“Once we came to an agreement, he sided with me,” said Shareef O’Neal, now with G League Ignite, in Las Vegas. “He was like, ‘You’re my son. I’m going to support you no matter what.’ He’s helped me a lot over the past few months. I think it’s brought us closer than ever. I feel like my whole family has grown even closer.

O’Neal, an undrafted 6-foot-10 power forward, will make his debut for the Ignite on Thursday in his team’s exhibition against Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, and the Metropolitans 92, a French professional team, at the Dollar Loan Center at 3 p.m. ET.

O’Neal averaged 2.6 points per game in 37 games combined at UCLA and LSU. He transferred to LSU, his father’s alma mater, in 2020, two years after he was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition that nearly ended his career.

“You know, I think about it every day,” he said. “It’s such a blessing that I’m here in this position because, you know, there were a few months where I thought basketball was taken away from me and I was going to have to find something else.”

O’Neal said a lot of people told him to stay at LSU and not make the NBA draft last summer. He said he had to make the choice on his own, even if it meant not getting the immediate support of his father, the NBA Hall of Famer and the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. in 1992.

He also said that leaving school and entering the draft was linked to the amount of disruption he had suffered. He was sidelined for more than a year following his heart surgery four years ago. And he suffered multiple stress fractures in his feet while at LSU.

“I was a little too seated,” he said. “It’s my big pet peeve to miss basketball games. I’ve already done a year and a half with heart surgery. I kept getting hurt and I didn’t know what was going to happen , so I just bet on myself and thought, ‘I want to go pro.’ Everyone was telling me it was a bad idea: the coaches, the family. not be discouraged. I continued.

As he expressed the reasons for his decision, Shaquille O’Neal began to understand his son’s point of view, and then he began to help him on his journey, Shareef O’Neal said. After his summer league contract with the Lakers expired, he was unsure of his professional options. The Lakers hadn’t offered him another opportunity.

But his father had a connection with Jason Hart, the former NBA guard and Ignite coach, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the former NBA star and current G League president. Shareef O’Neal goes by the name of Abdur-Rahim.

Those ties helped young O’Neal land a spot with the Ignite, which is anchored by Scoot Henderson (the projected No. 2 pick in this summer’s NBA draft), other young stars and veterans aiming another shot in the league. O’Neal said he was grateful for his father’s support and, more importantly, their relationship.

“I feel like [my father and I] banging our heads at one point — it’s really the first time we’ve had a disagreement like that — it brought us closer than ever,” he said. “He is my best friend and also my father. I love it.”

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