Shareef O’Neal was just 6 months old when his father, Shaquille O’Neal, teamed up with Kobe Bryant to win the first of three championships together for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The older O’Neal went on to have his No. 34 jersey retired by LA in 2013 and was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
However, when the young O’Neal showed up at the Lakers’ practice facility for a pre-draft workout Tuesday, it wasn’t with his father’s blessing.
“We are very surprised by this process,” O’Neal, 22, said in a video conference. “He wanted me to stay in school. He wanted to push myself through this. He knows I’m working with teams. But I’m not going to lie, we haven’t talked about this. I’m kind of going through it. He didn’t do any pre-draft training; he just went straight to the [Orlando Magic]so it’s a different routine.
“So he didn’t want me to do this, and I know he probably doesn’t want me to say this, but I’m sorry. We’re both adults, we’ll get over this.”
O’Neal is coming off a challenging college career, during which he totaled just 37 games over three seasons with UCLA and LSU.
His averages of 2.6 points on 40.5% from the floor, 3.0 rebounds and 0.4 blocks pale in comparison to those of his father, who scored 21.6 points on 61% shooting, 13. 5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game for the LSU Tigers before becoming No. 1 in Orlando. in the 1992 NBA draft.
The draft prospect noted that production can’t be judged in direct comparison after he underwent open heart surgery his freshman year and then dealt with foot and ankle injuries that sabotaged his final two seasons at LSU.
“I feel like he and I have a completely different story now,” O’Neal said when asked if he felt any pressure to carry on his father’s legacy. “I went through some things that he didn’t go through. He was the No. 1 pick in the draft. I had to work to get here. I had to work hard. I had to go through some things these last four years (foot injuries, surgeries heart attacks) and I don’t really seem to be in their shadow.
He credits Lakers track coach Shane Besedick, who used to work with UCLA, for saving his life by discovering the anomalous right coronary artery problem in his time with the Bruins.
“I know it will always be there, the comparison,” O’Neal continued. “All the kids are going to be compared to their father, who does the same thing they do. So that will be there. It doesn’t bother me.”
O’Neal, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound power forward compared to his father, who played center at 7-1 and north of 300 pounds, said he was determined to stay in the draft after participate in the G League. Elite prospect camp last month.
“I felt like in college I wasn’t getting enough opportunities. I didn’t feel like myself in college,” he said. “[The invite] It opened many doors for me. … I feel like she really brought me back and showed me a little bit of what I can do. And once I started getting calls from exercise teams, I was like, ‘Man, this is what I want to do.’ I mean I’m here, it’s right in front of me, so do it. So I kept working.”
However, the decision was not well received by his father.
“He didn’t like the idea at all,” O’Neal said. “It sucks that he didn’t like that idea, but I’m a grown man, I’m 22, I can make my own decisions. It was right in front of my face. I’m not going to back down.” I’ll look for it if I see it. This is how I’m built. I take everything the same way. They operated on my heart the same way. It was right in front of me, and I went for it. I will not back down from anyone. I know he’s an NBA legend, I know he’s my father, but he was right in front of me, I had to go get him. So whether he likes it or not, he’s not going to stop me from doing what I want to do.”
The Lakers don’t have any picks in Thursday’s draft, first or second round, but have still held a handful of draft workouts in recent weeks to get a closer look at prospects. They hope to be able to buy a pick Thursday night and are interested in adding young undrafted talent, as they did with Austin Reaves last season, sources told ESPN.