UCLA's Shareef O'Neal, Shaq's son, 'could've died' from heart defect, mom says

Dec 2, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins forward Shareef O'Neal (22) looks on during warm up before the game against the Loyola Marymount Lions at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Shareef O'Neal, Shaq's son, could have died if not for doctors catching a heart defect, his mother said. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Shareef O’Neal, a UCLA sophomore and former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal’s son, was undergoing a routine physical last fall when doctors discovered a heart ailment, sidelining the four-star recruit for his freshman year.

If it weren’t for the doctors’ discovery, O’Neal “could’ve died from it,” his mother, Shaunie O’Neal, said during the season premiere of her TV show “Basketball Wives.” The VH1 show, in its eighth season, was created and produced by O’Neal and aired Wednesday with insight into her son’s diagnosis.

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O’Neal diagnosed with congenital heart condition

Shaunie said her son was diagnosed with a right anomalous coronary artery and underwent open-heart surgery in October to correct it. The lead-up to the surgery was covered on “Basketball Wives” and shown in a sneak peak with the entire family going to the hospital.

Shaunie tried to stay brave for the family and later explained the situation on the show:

"[It's] an artery that just grows in the wrong place. He was born with it. He literally could've died from it. They let us know Shareef needed open-heart surgery. I felt my heart break. This is definitely the hardest thing we've ever had to face in our lives.”


Symptoms can occur later in life and include abnormal heart rhythms, shortness of breath and tiring easily, according to the Mayo Clinic. The issue can cause heart infection, stroke, hypertension and heart failure if the heart becomes too weak or stiff to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

Shareef was shown walking a week after the surgery on the show, per ESPN, and Shaunie held a fundraiser for heart health.

O’Neal returns to UCLA court

UCLA released a statement in September announcing O’Neal, a 6-foot-9 forward, would take a redshirt year for medical reasons. O’Neal did an interview with TMZ Sports to reveal the news and later tweeted about it.


O’Neal returned to practices last month with first-year head coach Mick Cronin and is working on his strength and conditioning. Per ESPN, he lost 25 pounds while he was out. He’s clearly ready to get back to games.

O’Neal is one of UCLA’s five top-100 recruits from 2018 and averaged 27 points per game at Crossroads School in Los Angeles as a senior. The squad won the state’s Division II state championship.

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