On the same day Bronny James suffered a cardiac arrest during a USC workout, another basketball player whose dad also starred for the Lakers opened up on a podcast about his heart scare before playing for UCLA.
Shareef O’Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal, appeared on the “Now For Later” podcast, which was released Monday, and detailed his long and sometimes painful journey after undergoing open heart surgery at age 18.
More than four years after the surgery, O’Neal was pursuing a pro career with the the NBA G League Ignite after playing at UCLA and Louisiana State and four games with the Lakers in the 2022 NBA summer league.
And then, he said on the podcast, “the whole thing happened with Damar Hamlin.”
Hamlin, a safety for the Buffalo Bills, suffered a cardiac arrest during a Monday night game in January. Seeing Hamlin’s heart fail him on national TV really shook up O’Neal, who had surgery before his freshman season at UCLA to fix a heart defect that doctors warned could kill him without warning.
O’Neal was so shaken that he sat out the Ignite’s next game.
“That just brought me back to 2018,” O’Neal, 23, told Ignite teammate Eric Mika on the podcast. “…It’s crazy, like, ‘cause I can go so long without thinking about it and one little thing that reminds me about it just brings it all back. That’s something I’m still trying to work on.”
O’Neal said he was able to return to the lineup for the next game after a conversation with his surgeon.
“He’s like, ‘What happened with Damar Hamlin is so rare and you’re fine,’” O’Neal said. “It was just a familiar voice who had something completely to do with my surgery and he’s the reason I’m here today, so hearing him talk to me completely wiped it out.”
O’Neal, who is friends with Bronny James, has yet to publicly comment on him. The 18-year-old was in stable condition Tuesday morning after a brief stint in intensive care, according to a spokesperson for the family.
According to TMZ, however, O’Neal did respond to a Twitter user who suggested that James’ condition was somehow related to spending time with O’Neal.
“That is very disrespectful of you to say,” O’Neal reportedly wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “I’ve been around Bronny for a very long time before this happened … I’ll pray for you. You need help … sick that you would even say something like that 🤦🏾♂️🤦🏾♂️🤦🏾♂️#dummy.”
On his podcast appearance, O’Neal talked about having to relearn how to walk.
“My confidence was really gone when I got up from the surgery and I tried to walk on my own,” said O’Neal, who underwent surgery at Stanford on Dec. 13, 2018. “They kind of had to reteach me how to walk again ‘cause I tried to get up on my own to use the bathroom and I just fell down on the floor. I can’t even move my legs, I can’t walk. After that I was like, what am I gonna do with my life? Basketball is not an option. “
O’Neal said listening to and producing music helped him through tough times until he was ready to work on getting back on the court.
“I kind of took it really slow and I think that was something I did on my own ‘cause they didn’t really tell me a recovery process or when I could get back to basketball,” he said. “They were like, you know, ‘However your body feels, do it.’ So me being scared … I’d go on a little jog, I’d dribble a basketball, take some shots, do a small basketball workout and I kind of built it up from there.”
Now, O’Neal said, he knows that heart surgery is part of his story and he hopes it might inspire others.
“I feel like in 20 years I want to be known as that kid who fought back from something that was life-changing and made his dreams come true,” he said.