Before college athletes officially gained the right this year to cash in on their name, image and likeness, Shaquille O’Neal’s son started exploring possibilities.
“I had an NIL meeting last year and I told my mom, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to be able to start making money.’ And she was clapping and she was like, ‘Woo hoo, no more asking me and your dad (for money),’ ” said Shareef O’Neal, who plays basketball at LSU.
A 6-foot-10 junior, O’Neal has averaged 2.5 points and 3.6 rebounds during two seasons of college basketball while battling an assortment of medical issues. He has yet to play this season because of a lingering foot injury.
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But his days of getting allowance from his famous father will be ending soon, according to Shareef, who has signed an NIL deal with NFT Genius, a cryptocurrency startup backed by investors such as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and actor Ashton Kutcher.
Asked how much he stands to make, Shareef said, “It could be a crazy amount, that’s all I know.”
The NCAA, citing the importance of amateurism in college athletics, has long fought to prevent athletes from capitalizing on such deals. But Supreme Court rulings as recent as last summer opened for college athletes to cash in on their name, image and likeness, with the ability to do so now regulated on a state-by-state basis.
In July, Louisiana became one of 20 states to pass NIL legislation.
Last month, NFT Genius launched BALLERZ, a collection of 10,000 basketball-themed Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) that included Shareef. Next week, the first NFTs in Shareef’s own collection will launch.
Jeremy Born, CEO of NFT Genius, declined to comment on details of the deal with Shareef. But he did address the project that will include the entire O’Neal family.
“It’s a monumental undertaking — arguably the first time in the NFT space where an athlete is showcased not only for their work on the court, but also for important causes and personal hardships they may be facing off the court,” Born said in a statement.
The first NFT in the collection will drop Dec. 13, a significant day for Shareef O’Neal.
On Dec. 13, 2018, he had open-heart surgery after being diagnosed with a right anomalous coronary artery, a congenital defect that caused an artery to grow in the wrong place.
“It’s scary,” Shareef, 21, told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s something I’ve thought about probably 100 times a day ever since it happened. Every time I change my shirt, I see this big scar.
“Even if I see something as simple as a little heart emoji or a little heart drawing somewhere, it kind of just brings back a lot of memories.’’
Shareef, who coming out of high school was ranked 41st in the 247Sports composite rankings for Class of 2018, originally signed with UCLA. His heart defect was discovered at UCLA during a routine physical examination.
He missed the 2018-19 season while recovering from the surgery. About midway through the next season — after averaging 2.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in 13 games — O’Neal announced he was leaving UCLA and transferring to LSU, where his father was a two-time All-American.
A bronze statue of Shaquille O’Neal sits outside the basketball team’s practice facility.
“Nobody compares me to him,” Shareef said. “They’ll just ask me how does it feel to know your dad has a statue outside. I’ll be like, ‘It’s awesome.’ I walk past it every day going to practice. It’s cool to see, like, that’s my dad.’’
Hampered by a stress fracture in his right foot last season, Shareef played just 10 games and averaged 2.8 points and 4.4 rebounds. The injury has lingered, and O’Neal said he plans to be ready to play at the start of the SEC season, which begins for LSU on Dec. 29 at Auburn.
“I know this season is going to be a great season when I get back,” he said.