Shaq Insists He’s Not a Celebrity

Shaquille O’Neal has been a number of issues: A four-time NBA champion, a 15-time All-Star choice, a film star, a businessman, a rapper and DJ, an analyst on TV, an ubiquitous company spokesperson, even a police officer.

However there’s one factor he insists he’s not: a celeb. Like a prince giving up his royal title, he says he’s renounced his movie star standing.

“Celebrities are all loopy,” he says. “These individuals are out of their freaking minds. I don’t like the way in which they act. The issues they are saying, the way in which they deal with individuals. I don’t need to be checked out like that. So don’t name me that anymore.”

We don’t have time to get into who he’s speaking about particularly earlier than he tells me his most well-liked nomenclature: He says he’s truly—his phrases—“an everyday one who listened.”

In fact, the concept that Shaq is common in any means appears laughable. He’s 7-foot-1, greater than 350 kilos, simply the most important individual I’ve ever met. Jimmy Kimmel as soon as known as him “the one human seen from house.” A couple of hours earlier than he arrived for our assembly, I witnessed individuals lining as much as take photographs together with his footwear—every of which is roughly the scale of an toddler. To not point out the truth that he’s a mononymous, legendary athlete, price lots of of hundreds of thousands of {dollars}. Shaq may be essentially the most recognizable individual on the planet. He can’t stroll 10 ft on any sidewalk in America with out somebody shouting his identify or asking him to pose for a photograph.

I ask him how he might probably suppose that he’s an everyday individual.

“I do common stuff,” he tells me. (Besides he doesn’t use the phrase stuff.) “I don’t have an entourage. I don’t have safety. It’s simply me.” I need to look incredulous, as a result of he retains going. “I order random issues from Amazon. I store at Walmart—it’s my favourite retailer.”

Like so many People, he says most days he watches reruns of discuss reveals and actuality TV (his favourite is Maury). At one level after his divorce, he even used a courting app. However the first lady he chatted with didn’t consider he was actually Shaq and refused to fulfill.

“Shaq would by no means be on this,” she advised him.

He’s telling me this on the fiftieth ground of the 4 Seasons in Atlanta, in a penthouse surrounded by panoramic views of downtown. It’s additionally the week of Shaq’s fiftieth birthday. He walks somewhat slower than he used to, and he has hassle crossing his ankles or arms. He’s been feeling reflective lately, watching previous footage and recalling previous tales for a documentary being made about his life. So he’s prepared to speak about every thing from his childhood to his household to his personal mortality. However first we spend a couple of minutes on this “movie star” factor. He’s adamant.

I ask if he’s OK being known as an icon—a label that appears, frankly, inarguable. There’s actually a statue of the person outdoors the basketball enviornment at his alma mater, Louisiana State College. However Shaq shakes his head.

“No,” he says in that ultra-deep voice that’s turn into so acquainted to so many individuals through the years. “I’m only a common one who listened,” he says once more. “Simply because I made it doesn’t imply I’m larger than you. Simply because I’ve more cash doesn’t imply I’m higher than you.” What began as a goofy dialog now feels extra profound.

Lastly we choose fashionable. He nods. “I prefer to make everybody smile,” he tells me. “The world is loopy proper now. If I could make somebody smile, I need to make that individual smile.”

As we’re speaking, his longtime stylist, Renee, comes over with an enormous go well with jacket she thinks Shaq might put on for his cowl shot. She holds it up for him to contemplate.

“That ain’t my jacket, Renee,” he says.

“It is your jacket,” she says. It’s large, sufficiently big to be a blanket for most individuals.

“I’m gonna present you it’s not my jacket,” he says with a wry grin. Then he grabs it and slips his arms by means of the sleeves.

“No! No! No!” she says, laughing. Clearly Renee’s seen this earlier than.

I count on him to attempt to button the entrance of the jacket, probably to exhibit that it’s somewhat cosy. However that’s not what Shaq does. As a substitute he clenches his large fists and flexes his supersized arms and chest—and in a blink, the seams within the shoulders explode like they’re spring-loaded, leaving an enormous tear from collar to hemline.

* * *

A couple of years in the past, Shaq shared his thought for find out how to save gasoline with a nationwide TV viewers. He was on the set of Contained in the NBA, the place he’s been an analyst since 2011, the yr he retired from his taking part in profession. He advised fellow analyst Kenny Smith that as a substitute of filling up his tank for $80 as soon as per week, he might cease when he will get all the way down to half a tank and put in $20 price of gasoline.

Smith, seeming confused, replied: “I’d should cease extra usually.”

Shaq shook his head. “No you wouldn’t,” Shaq defined. “When it will get to half, put in 20. Then when it will get again to half, you place in 20.”

“It’s the identical quantity of gasoline!” Smith stated, verging on exasperated.

“Kenny,” Shaq stated, calmly. “No one travels greater than me.”

Smith began a thought, “So if on daily basis—” and Shaq minimize him off.

“You don’t should put gasoline in on daily basis!” Shaq exclaimed. “Don’t play me proper now.”

On the different finish of the set, Charles Barkley was doubled over laughing on the ridiculousness of the argument. The present’s host, Ernie Johnson Jr., was leaning again together with his hand to his forehead, befuddled by the entire interplay.

Over the following few days, the clip went viral on Twitter. It’s spawned a sequence of animations, explainer movies on YouTube and follow-up discussions—every of which primarily simply rehash the identical argument. Truthfully, I’ve watched the clip not less than a dozen instances and I’ve no clue what Shaq’s speaking about, but it surely’s hilarious. A gaggle of multimillionaire former basketball gamers speaking about one thing that has nothing to do with basketball, and it’s not instantly clear if Shaq is a few kind of mathematical genius or simply taking part in round—and that’s the purpose. In another circumstance, a dialog like this might be insupportable. However with Shaq, it’s a purpose why the present is no doubt the perfect sports activities commentary program on TV.

Lots of people might dissect the nuances of the sport—and Shaq definitely does that, too—however he additionally brings one thing else. Some kind of subtly subtle, self-deprecating enjoyable. It’s the identical factor Shaq brings to each enterprise or product he’s related to. And he’s related to rather a lot.

Along with his TV gig, he additionally hosts a podcast, The Large Podcast with Shaq. Shaq has his personal model of sneakers, fits, eyeglasses and jewellery. He has actual property investments all around the nation. And a sequence of youngsters’s books. Oh, and he’s a cop. He’s been deputized in not less than 5 totally different jurisdictions, and once I ask in regards to the Glock 45 he carries in his waistband, he flips open a badge displaying he’s a serious with the Henry County Sheriff’s Workplace.

He’s additionally a public spokesperson for a numerous checklist of firms, together with The Basic automobile insurance coverage, Gold Bond medicated powder, Icy Sizzling topical ointment, Carnival Cruise Line, Ring doorbell cameras, Oreo cookies and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Almost each business is simply Shaq being, effectively, himself: Shaq putting in a safety system, Shaq dancing to the Gold Bond theme music, Shaq standing in a cruise ship pool together with his garments on. Every advert has that very same component: Shaq-style enjoyable. It’s laborious to pinpoint precisely why, however it doesn’t matter what he’s doing, seeing him makes you are feeling like smiling.

Making individuals smile, he tells me, is his greatest aim in life. When he eats at eating places, he leaves famously humongous suggestions. (He’s been identified to offer a server $4,000 if the meals comes quick sufficient.) On days when he’s not working, he goes to a Walmart or a furnishings retailer and, as he places it, “blesses” whole strangers—with a grand or two in money. No cameras. No media. Only a large human creating unforgettable moments within the lives of different individuals.

“Particularly children,” he says. “I all the time attempt to give children my secret.”

What’s his secret?

“I inform them to all the time take heed to their mommy and daddy,” he says. Generally he delivers his message whereas shopping for somewhat child a brand new bike or handing a young person a brand new iPhone. “I inform them, ‘Your mother and pa can assist you greater than I can.’”

When he finds out I’ve an toddler at dwelling, Shaq takes my cellphone, opens the digital camera, turns it to selfie mode, and begins recording a message.

“You don’t know me,” he says to the digital camera. “However you realize this man.”

He factors the digital camera at me, then again to himself.

“Let me inform you,” he says. “He’s a superhero. In the future we had been strolling down the road and a few unhealthy guys jumped off a constructing and your daddy beat them up. Your daddy kicked them and he punched them and he threw them out of the way in which.”

Then Shaq raises one eyebrow and will get only a contact quieter.

“Your daddy’s a superhero,” he says. “Ensure you all the time take heed to him.”

* * *

It was a unique birthday. He was 28, in his fourth yr on the Lakers, they usually had been taking part in in opposition to the Clippers on the second night time of a back-to-back. Shaq was so dominant that recreation it was virtually disrespectful. Aided by a younger Kobe Bryant, Shaq raced up and down the courtroom, grabbing his personal offensive rebounds and slamming the ball by means of the rim so laborious the room appeared to quake. He completed with a career-high 61 factors and 23 rebounds within the midst of what can be his solely MVP season. A couple of months later he gained his first of three consecutive NBA championships.

As a participant, he was identified for his freakish physicality and athleticism—the so-called “Hack-a-Shaq” defensive technique was so fashionable it has its personal Wikipedia web page. However he additionally turned identified for his off-the-court persona. He recorded rap albums, one among which went platinum. He appeared in motion pictures like 1994’s school recruiting drama Blue Chips and 1996’s kid-friendly Kazaam, the place he performed a wise-cracking, emotional genie. He dubbed himself “The Large Aristotle.” Then advised individuals he wished to be known as “The Large Shakespeare.”

For many of his profession, he was pushed by doubters. The adults who advised him he’d by no means make it out of Newark. Coaches who advised him he’d by no means go professional. Commentators and former gamers saying he couldn’t win a hoop. And whereas sure, he was clearly domineering bodily, he was additionally a pupil of the sport.

Through the All-Star Recreation this yr, after Shaq was named to the NBA’s seventy fifth anniversary workforce, he spent practically 5 minutes itemizing a number of the individuals who formed his profession. He thanked his mom, who raised him on a secretary’s wage when his organic father left them. He calls her “the good Lucille O’Neal.” He thanked his stepfather, Phil Harrison, who took him to his first professional recreation—the place he watched Julius Erving throw down and get the group right into a frenzy. He cited Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, his good friend Charles Barkley. He thanked individuals who provided recommendation, who helped him persevere. Coaches, executives, opponents, legends of the sport.

Shaq tells me he was additionally pushed by the need to not be a part of what he calls “that stat”—the 60% of NBA gamers who go broke inside 5 years of their remaining recreation. As a not-so-subtle warning, his stepfather, a drill sergeant, used to inform him about athletes who’d misplaced all their cash.

It’s clear that motivated Shaq to turn into a pupil of huge enterprise, too. He quotes Jeff Bezos and Invoice Gates. He purchased Google inventory on the primary providing, when the corporate was valued at $100 million. Immediately Google’s dad or mum firm is price greater than $1 trillion.

Shaq calls himself a “grasp of the three way partnership.” Most of his endorsement offers don’t contain a big trade of money. As a substitute, Shaq normally will get an fairness stake within the firm, then helps it develop. And he solely companions with merchandise he personally makes use of and likes.

Ring is an effective instance. A couple of years in the past Shaq wanted a safety system at a brand new home. The quote from an organization was one thing like $40,000. As a substitute, Shaq purchased himself a Ring doorbell digital camera for $300 and put in it himself. He liked it a lot he sought out the corporate’s founder, which is how he ended up starring in Ring commercials. It’s not clear how a lot of the corporate he bought, however Ring lately bought to Amazon for $1 billion.

He tells me he’s made errors through the years, too. The restaurant builders behind Planet Hollywood recruited Shaq, together with Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky and Andre Agassi, to spend money on a sports-themed restaurant chain. In just a few years, the corporate was bankrupt. One other firm he was a part of in 2021 misplaced two-thirds of its worth just some months after going public. He says he turned down a suggestion from Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz as a result of he didn’t suppose Black individuals drank a lot espresso.

“Now there’s a Starbucks on each nook,” he tells me.

He thinks of every mistake as a studying alternative. He’s truly been eager about these kinds of issues since not less than his days at LSU. When a advertising and marketing professor requested the category to develop merchandise they may think about promoting sooner or later, Shaq created an elaborate plan to promote Shaq footwear, Shaq socks, Shaq shirts. However he says the professor gave him an F, noting that within the NBA, large guys hadn’t traditionally been nice salesmen.

“He truly embarrassed me,” Shaq advised HBO’s Actual Sports activities just a few years in the past.

It was true, although. Forwards and guards like Michael Jordan, Larry Hen, Magic Johnson all had profitable endorsement offers. However large facilities didn’t transfer footwear. As Wilt Chamberlain as soon as put it: “All people pulls for David. No one roots for Goliath.”

So Shaq began finding out commercials, eager about which adverts he preferred and why. He remembers seeing a sequence of Bud Mild commercials that includes a canine named Spuds MacKenzie. They had been humorous. He knew he might be humorous.

“I’ve all the time been like that. I used to be all the time the category clown,” he tells me. “I virtually bought kicked out of highschool for that. Now I’m earning profits doing these things!”

* * *

It’s unusual to consider Shaq as a 50-year-old, partly as a result of he prides himself on being a giant child. However the years of getting hacked on the courtroom night time after night time have additionally taken a toll. He lumbers as he walks and has a tough time bending over to placed on his footwear. He confirmed as much as our assembly carrying a boat-size pair of TOMS canvas slip-ons. He says his greatest worry is getting older.

“Isn’t getting old higher than the choice?” I ask.

“Not essentially,” he says. He’s seemed into some anti-aging ideas.

I ask if there’s something he hasn’t carried out but that he desires to. He says that sooner or later he’d prefer to spend a yr on a yacht, crusing world wide. Then he factors out at a number of the tallest buildings within the Atlanta skyline.

“These items.”

He says he desires to do extra in business actual property. He’d prefer to personal some buildings like these in some unspecified time in the future, and that he’s studying as a lot as he can from individuals he is aware of who’ve carried out effectively with tasks like that. His motivations are somewhat totally different lately.

“I need to proceed to achieve success,” he says. “Proceed to point out my children. Proceed to point out different children.”

I ask if he’ll ever run for workplace.

“By no means,” he says. “I solely need to make individuals joyful. In politics you make some individuals joyful and a few individuals sad. I don’t do politics.”

He says he likes to stability the unfavourable issues in life.

“It’s horrible issues,” he tells me. “I would like individuals to see my face and understand it’s cool. You’re having a foul day, you see me, it’s cool.”

We all know now that lots of people who work laborious to make others snicker are hurting inside and use that laughter as a salve. Being the Large Aristotle, the Large Shakespeare can’t all the time be simple. As we head to the elevator on the finish of our discuss, I ask him if he ever stops to benefit from the life he’s constructed.

He tells me that he’s “programmed to not be joyful.”

When he was a child, he says, he’d win a trophy on a Friday, his stepfather would set it out someplace, then invite individuals over for a cookout and present it off. However then on Sunday, the trophy was gone.

“I’d say, ‘Hey, the place’s the trophy?’ He’d say, ‘Get one other one.’”

Shaq says that mentality ceaselessly propels him.

“It retains me grounded,” he says. “That’s truly why I gained three straight championships. After the primary one, I used to be like, ‘I’ve bought one, I’m cool.’ Then I hear, ‘I wager you’ll be able to’t get one other one.’ Then ‘Magic and Kareem bought two, I wager you’ll be able to’t get three.’”

He says it drove him loopy.

“In any case this time, I fought for respect, and you continue to don’t respect me? Watch this,” he says. “Once you develop up they usually inform you that you just’re no person, you thrive on being anyone.”

That’s why he performed 19 years, all the time hungry for an additional ring. It’s why he’s satisfied there’s all the time one other enterprise deal. And it’s why there’s all the time another person he could make smile, simply by being Shaq.

It’s not too unhealthy—for an everyday man who listened. 

This text initially appeared within the Could/June 2022 Concern of SUCCESS journal. Images by Bianca Pierre. 


Michael J. Mooney is a journalist who writes for D Journal, GQ, ESPN: The Journal, Outdoors, SUCCESS and Widespread Mechanics. He’s co-director of the annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Convention. His tales have appeared in a number of editions of The Finest American Sports activities Writing and The Finest American Crime Reporting. He lives in Dallas together with his fiancée, Tara, and their retired racing greyhound.

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