Ayesha Harrison-Jex, the sister of NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, died Thursday after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 40 years old.

O'Neal's Inside the NBA co-hosts announced the tragic news Thursday night, explaining why the Hall of Famer was absent from the broadcast. They then paid tribute to Harrison-Jex and expressed condolences to the O'Neal and his family.

"We have to tell you why you're not seeing Shaquille O'Neal here on the set tonight," co-host Ernie Johnson said on air. "Basically, the Big Fella, who I've described as the biggest kid in the world, his heart is breaking tonight. He said his world revolves around his brother and two sisters, and he lost one of his sisters this morning."

Johnson said Harrison-Jex had graduated from Florida A&M University with a bachelor's and master's degree. She will be buried next to O'Neal's stepfather, Sgt. Phillip Harrison, at military cemetery.

"I'm trying to put into words the way Shaquille has reacted to this, and he's struggling," Johnson continued. "And when he struggles, we struggle with him, because he's one of our brothers, and we feel for him tonight ... Hearts are breaking in Shaq's family and in our family, as well."

O'Neal responded to the touching tribute via Twitter, writing: "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."

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