By Mark Miller
Early in his 19-year National Basketball Association career, Shaquille O’Neal had plenty of opponents he could at least look in the eye.
Night after night, the 7-foot-1-inch, 325-pounder would go against great centers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo. Even lesser talents like Shawn Bradley, Eric Dampier (or Erica as Shaq said), and Bryant Reeves attempted to stop the man with nicknames like The Big Aristotle, The Diesel and Superman.
It was the tail end of the big man era that had its roots with Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“When I was playing, I killed all the guys off so nobody wanted to come inside,” O’Neal said before his Oct. 21 appearance as featured guest at the PwC/SMU Athletic Forum at the Hilton Anatole. “Everyone wanted to shoot jumpers so you got the kids watching them and they feel that’s how you play.
“It is where the game is going and for me it’s not fun to watch. I do like watching Steph Curry. I haven’t seen a small guard dominate like he did. (Steve) Nash did it every now and then but Steph Curry has taken over the game. And if you look at him, I saw him a couple of weeks ago in New York and no offense to him but he looks like a little baby. He has no arm muscles, no chest muscles. But the guy just took over the game.”
Though he’s not fond of today’s NBA, O’Neal watches the action as part of his role on the highly-popular Inside the NBA on TNT. How else is he supposed to trade barbs with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson on a show he says is as fun to do as it is to watch?
“The good thing is our producer just lets us go,” he said. “I think our show has a little bit of credibility because you have a hall of famer in Charles Barkley who played at a high level. I played at a high level. I don’t know what level Kenny played at. And you’ve got Ernie.
“Sometimes I’m sitting there and laughing so hard I don’t believe the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is allowing us to say this and do this. It’s like a comedy basketball show.”
O’Neal’s work on TNT is among his many endeavors since retiring from the league in 2011. He’s a minority owner of the Sacramento Kings and a businessman who is part-owner of 24-Hour Fitness Centers in Florida and Houston. He has endorsement deals with products he uses like Icy Hot, Gold Bond skin care products (“all black people love lotion”), Fruity Pebbles cereal, and Arizona Beverage Company. He’s been an active investor in stocks plus real estate in Florida and his native Newark, N.J., and also does a weekly podcast.
In the past, O’Neal composed rap music, acted in movies (remember Blue Chips, Kazaam, and Steel?), and served in law enforcement. He also earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in General Education from alma mater Louisiana State University in 2000, a Master of Business administration from the University of Phoenix in 2005, and an Education Doctorate in Human Resource Development from Barry University in 2012.
So what does Dr. Shaq look for in his business ventures?
“I look at things that I think will make an impact; things that I think will change the world; things that will help people,” he said.
O’Neal also is following and offering advice to his 15-year-old son Shareef, a 6-foot-8-inch sophomore at Windward High School in Los Angeles. Shaq has told him to watch New Orleans Pelicans’ star Anthony Davis whose game more mirrors Shareef’s than his dad.
“I tell him the two most important things my father (Phillip Harrison) told me,” the father of five said. “One is you don’t know pressure until you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. The other is a John Wooden quote ‘don’t worry about being better than anyone else; just be the best you can be.’ If he’s fortunate to make it to the next level, they’ll try to compare him to me. I tell him just go out and have fun.”
Shaq hopes his son shoots free throws more like dad did at San Antonio Cole High School (72.9 percent) than in the NBA (52.7). Despite that liability, O’Neal won NBA four titles – three consecutive with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000-2002, and one with the Miami Heat in 2006 against the Dallas Mavericks. He was a 15-time all-star, 2000 Most Valuable Player plus a 1996 Olympic gold medalist.
He won scoring titles in 1995 with the Orlando Magic, the team that drafted him, and in 2000 with the Lakers. While he would have loved to have played for the Mavericks, coaches like Phil Jackson in Los Angeles and Pat Riley in Miami knew better than to trade him to Dallas. So he played his final three seasons in Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston before retiring in June 2011.
Who was his toughest foe?
“I could never guard David Robinson,” he said. “He was fast. He could make the jump shot and everybody loved him. He was the American-type guy. I really had troubles with him.
“The Georgetown boys (Ewing and Mutombo) I never had a problem with. I never had a problem with Erica Dampier. But I always got killed by Big Country Reeves. He used to kill me, destroy me.”
His goal throughout his playing career – entertain the fans.
“My father told me that these hard-working people are paying top dollar so give them a show and that’s what I always tried to do,” he said.