Shaquille O'Neal's colleagues and friends on TNT were heartbroken for him and his family on Thursday night after O'Neal lost his younger sister to cancer earlier in the day.
The NBA Hall of Famer was absent from Thursday night's broadcast of "Inside the NBA" after returning to Orlando, Florida, to be with his family to mourn the death of Ayesha Harrison-Jex, 40, who died Thursday morning from cancer after three years with the disease.
"Basically the ‘Big Fella,’ who I’ve described as ‘the biggest kid in the world,’ his heart is breaking tonight,'' host Ernie Johnson said on the broadcast. "He said his world revolves around his brother and two sisters, and he lost one of his sisters this morning.
"I’m trying to put into words the way Shaquille has reacted to this, and he’s struggling. And when he struggles, we struggle with him because he’s one of our brothers, and we feel for him tonight."
O'Neal, 47, did not know his biological father and was raised by his late stepfather, Phillip Harrison, an Army sergeant who was Harrison-Jex's father. Johnson said Harrison-Jex will be buried in a military cemetery next to Harrison, who died in 2013.
O'Neal expressed his gratitude for the sentiments on Thursday night's show.
"Thanks for the condolences and the love,'' he tweeted. "If I had older brothers, it would be you 3. Love y’all and love you more Candice."
Fellow NBA Hall of Famer and TNT host Charles Barkley also paid tribute to O'Neal's mother, Lucille O’Neal, whom he said comforted his own mother before her death in 2015.
"When my mom passed away, she came and spent her last few days with my mom,'' Barkley said. "So I just want to give Miss Lucille a hug and tell her I love her. What she did for my mom at the end … I can never thank them enough, and I feel for her and Shaquille, and the rest of the family also."
O'Neal told TODAY's Sheinelle Jones in May that she calls her son "the elder" in the family who has always looked out for his siblings.
"He takes good care of the family, so he is setting the standard for the rest of them and has always done that," O'Neal said.
Kenny Smith also expressed his condolences to his TNT colleague, calling O'Neal "a big family guy."
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was also on the set and expressed his sentiments on behalf of the league.
“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 (and) to his family.”
"Big Fella, you hang in there," Johnson said.