Ayesha Harrison Jex, the sister of basketball great Shaquille O’Neal, has tragically died at the age of 40. The cause of death was cancer. Ayesha, who recently appeared in a charity fashion show, once described how Shaq, her older brother, helped take care of her growing up.
“Shaquille taught us how to play basketball,” she wrote in the book Shaq Talks Back. “He taught us how to swim. All four of us (siblings) used to just hang together.”
TNT’s Inside the NBA offered condolences to Shaq and his family, revealing the sad news that Ayesha died on Thursday, October 24, 2019. She had battled cancer since she was a college student but still managed to get her degree. Shaq was understandably with family in Florida, so he wasn’t on the show.
NBA.com posted the video condolences to Shaq and his family. “When he struggles, we struggle with him because he’s one of our brothers,” host Ernie Johnson said. He also said: “The big fella who is described as the ‘biggest kid in the world,’ his heart is breaking tonight.”
Johnson continued: “He said his world revolves around his brother and two sisters, and he lost one of his sisters this morning, far too early, at the age of 40, of cancer.” Shaquille is “struggling,” he added. Shaq responded on Twitter, “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.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ayesha Harrison Jex, the Mother of a Promising Basketball Player, Wrote That She Lived Life ‘to the Fullest’
On social media, Ayesha’s posts were positive and uplifting and focused on family. She sometimes tweeted supportive comments about her brother. In 2014, she tweeted, “I’m watching the 2014 Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame honoring @SHAQ, Dale Brown and many other well deserved contributors and players.”
“Live life to the fullest. Play hard, love harder……life is short,” Ayesha Jex wrote on Twitter.
It appears that good basketball genes continue to run in the family; Harrison, a mother, had tweeted about her son, Bryce Harrison, being named his middle school player of the year. In June, she wrote, “My baby is the 2019 Seminole County Middle School player of the year. #proudmom High School here he comes ?.”
Despite only being recently out of middle school, in July 2019, Bryce was described as 6’4″, 205-pounds. “I come from a basketball family so I’ve been around the game my whole life,” Bryce told Prep Hoops, which added, “Harrison started playing basketball in the second grade.” He wrote that he’s already received an offer from Tennessee State University.
People are excited about Bryce’s potential.
“Love u mama……” Bryce wrote on Twitter on the day of his mom’s death.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also appeared on the TNT show and offered condolences to the 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.”
2. Harrison Jex, Who Was Diagnosed With Cancer at Age 23, Will Be Buried in a Military Cemetery; Shaq’s Son Offered a Tribute to His Aunt on Twitter
Harrison’s mother spoke about her daughter’s cancer diagnosis to CBN. The site reported that Ayesha, at age 23, “was diagnosed with cancer behind her ear, close to her lymph nodes. This type cancer usually develops in older people.”
“This was very hard for me,” Lucille, the mother of both Ayesha and Shaq, told the site. “When someone has cancer it is just tough to deal with for anyone, especially a loved one. It is hard to be the caretaker because you feel so helpless.” Ayesha was in college at the time, but she went on to get an MBA, the site reported.
On Facebook, Harrison Jex wrote that she worked “front services at Rosen Hotels & Resorts Orlando.”
According to Vibe, Harrison Jex was a Florida A&M University graduate. She will be laid to rest in a military cemetery next to her dad and Shaq’s stepdad, Sgt. Philip Harrison.
Shaq’s son, Shareef O’Neal, wrote on Twitter, “Man , i can’t even think straight … y’all know how big of a family man I am and honestly I’m very hurt..I wish I got to say bye . I know you’ll be watching over us. I love you auntie , I’m going to make you proud ..❤️ RIP.”
3. Shaq Didn’t Know His Birth Dad Growing Up & Was Raised By His Stepfather, Philip A. Harrison, Who Was Ayesha’s Father
Shaquille O’Neal has a complicated family dynamic. Shaq’s mother is named Lucille O’Neal, and his stepfather was Philip A. Harrison. He has a second sister named Lateefah O’Neal, and a brother named Jamal O’Neal, according to TV Guide. Technically, Ayesha was Shaq’s half sister because she’s the daughter of Lucille and Harrison. Lucille had Shaq when she was 17 and told The Today Show that they grew up together.
The Today Show reports that Ayesha, Lateefah and Jamal were Lucille’s children with Harrison; the couple later divorced.
Lucille’s Facebook page describes her as “Southeast Director at Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund, Inc.” It says she is self-employed and “studied Organizational Management at University of Phoenix.” She’s from Newark, New Jersey but lives in Orlando, Florida. Lucille and her siblings established that fund in memory of Lucille’s mom, who was a nurse, CBN reported. Its mission is “to help parents and provide grants for individuals pursuing a career in nursing,” according to CBN.
According to Undefeated, Shaq’s mom met Philip Harrison, a soldier, in Newark, when Shaq was growing up. According to the site, Sgt. Harrison became Shaq’s father, “teaching him to tie his shoes, brush his teeth and play the pivot,” and be a man. (Harrison’s obituary page says it was maintained by his daughter, Ayesha Harrison Jex. He died in 2013.)
Shaq’s biological dad is named Joseph Toney, who spent time in prison and struggled with addiction. Undefeated described how, with Toney then age 70, Shaq met the man and told him he didn’t hate him for not being there for him growing up. Philip Harrison and Toney had played basketball against each other in high school, the site reported, adding that Shaq has two half brothers who are Toney’s other sons. But it’s clear that Philip Harrison played the pivotal father figure role in Shaq’s life.
4. Ayesha Once Described How Shaq Took Care of Her & Her Siblings Growing Up
Ayesha wrote a section in Shaq’s book, Shaq Talks Back. In it, she discussed growing up in Germany with Shaq and her other siblings. They played a game called “Taking Off the Socks” because their dad had “these real thick sports socks.” The goal was to pull the socks off the other person.
“Because Shaquille was older, he was either taking care of us or entertaining us,” she wrote. One Christmas, they all got Cabbage Patch dolls, and Shaq made them breakdance. “Shaquille taught us how to play basketball,” she wrote. “He taught us how to swim. All four of us used to just hang together.”
She described Shaq as “still a big kid.” She would visit him in Los Angeles. She said Shaq was clumsy at age 13, but “he was always stronger and more competitive than anyone.” In Germany, they played kickball, and no one could “get him out.”
She added, “Shaquille knows his family has his back; they’re supporting him.”
“People call him ‘Shaq’ but it just doesn’t seem right to me. To me, he’ll always be Shaquille. Shaq is almost like another person,” Ayesha said.
5. Ayesha Recently Appeared at a Charity Event for Cancer Held by the Family’s Foundation
Harrison Jex had been public about her cancer diagnosis. Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund, Inc. (Odessa Chambliss was Shaq’s grandmother) shared photos of her in May on Facebook and wrote, “Ayesha Harrison-Jex Graces the runway after she shared her testimony as a cancer survivor during the Celebration of Life Fashion Show.”
A page for the event said that Dr. Lucille O’Neal (the mother of Shaq and Ayesha) “will once again host this year’s 9 th Annual Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund, Inc. Fellowship Luncheon.”
The page continued: “Join Lucille and her family, special guests, and residents of Orlando and the surrounding communities as we gather together to celebrate life!…In addition, there will be a testimony from Ayesha Harrison Jex, and a special fashion show.”
The show featured “Cancer survivors and other individuals representing those who have lost their battle fighting this terrible disease! You don’t want to miss this. Needless to say…we are very excited to be able to encourage and uplift one another while raising funds for a worthy cause year after year!”
Mother and daughter were clearly close. “You are so beautiful baby girl! I love you…” Lucille wrote on a Facebook photo of Ayesha. “Thank you Mom! I love you too,” Ayesha responded.
In 2015, she changed her Facebook profile picture, writing, “I changed my image for 24 hours to a comic book hero, Superwoman (was chosen for me) for Childhood Cancer Awareness. My friend…gave me this mission and I happily accepted.”
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