Standing tall at 6’8″ and standing out with a smile, Shareef O’Neal is quick to notice that we’re both wearing MJ era Mitchell & Ness Bulls shorts, his black and mine red. While the coincidence makes us fast friends, it makes for a couple interesting observations — namely that I’m 5’11 and we both appear to be wearing Mediums and that said shorts were worn against his proud pops in some next-level playoff battles. Both prove early indicators of Reef’s reverence for hoops history while being an ambassador of today’s game and style.
We’re chatting it up at Shoot 360 as part of the media portion of the Eastbay x Ballislife All-American Game. While my original intention is to get a My 5 with him — a first for a high school athlete — it’s clear that pruning down the UCLA commit’s rotation to five pairs would be limiting, to say the least, as his on-court rotation spans three current pros without even making mention of Kickstradomis customs and Gucci LeBrons he’s become known for.
“I’ve been hooping in the ‘Mamba Mentality’ Kyries and I played my last few playoff games in Paul George’s Nikes because I was playing good in them,” Shareef says with a smile. “For the State Finals, I played in the Air Jordan 9s — the Kobe ones.”
Like other athletes of his era, Shareef’s shoe game is broader than basketball. “Shoes have always been in my life. I think the first shoes I ever fell in love with were some Ice Creams,” the assumed Pharrell fan reflects. “My dad usually got me shoes. He tried to get me to wear his shoes sometimes and I might have rocked them here and there,” he says with a smirk, “but then I started getting my own style.”
His own style is immediately apparent. While his famous father has an undoubtedly had an impact on the charismatic young man and heralded hooper he’s become, for any male adolescent there’s typically only one figure who has an impact on a young man similar to that of Dad. “My older brother,” Shareef shouts out, “he models and gets me a lot of the designer stuff.”
It’s clear that family is for sure a focus for Shareef and it’s clear talking to him at the All-American Game that he treats his friends just the same. “I’ve been talking to Moses Brown and Naz Reid, telling them what’s around here and where the beaches are at.”
Lucky for Shareef, he’ll be staying close to those beaches as the next step in his maturation is this fall’s freshmen semester at UCLA. Playing in the house that John Wooden built, he’ll grow as a man, a player and also as a more well-rounded sneakerhead — the latter of which isn’t lost on Reef.
“I don’t really know how the Under Armour shoes are, I’ve gotta do my research,” says Shareef about his school’s sponsor, “but I’m excited to see what shoes are the best. I know Steph Currys is on Under Armour so I’m gonna try to find the rarest Under Armours and rock ’em!”
All in all, the young O’Neal has a bright future, but more than anything he’s a kind kid with charm in his DNA. So, why such a bold headline for this story? Humble as he may be, the fun-loving forward had to make sure we got what the future is set to hold on tape before the big Eastbay x Ballislife All-American Game.
“I know PJ Tucker is the Kicks On Court leader right now,” says Shareef with a smile, “but I’m gonna have to take that title in a couple years! I know he rocks a lot of heat but I’m gonna have to take that title. I’m gonna come out strong.”
PJ, you’ve been warned.
Game shots courtesy of Eastbay