On the eve of All-Star Weekend, Shaquille O’Neal stopped by the American Express Experience, a weekend pop-up and art installation a few hundred feet from where all the festivities took place. Inside the space, the experience delivered an artistic journey of basketball, bringing fans through different interactive rooms and instillations. Among those was the Lakers Vault, where the purple and gold’s 16 championships were honored. There was also Shaq memorabilia hanging on the wall, a room of 18 handmade chandelier hoops, LED-lighted neon backboards and a walkway of exploded floorboards.
SLAM caught up with the 15-time All-Star to talk his favorite All-Star Weekend memories, picking his squad if he was a team captain, his son Shareef and more.
SLAM: What was your favorite All-Star Weekend memory?
Shaquille O’Neal: Being a medium juvenile delinquent and not knowing where I was going to go in this life, watching the NBA All-Star Game, I said, “Damn, I wish I was good enough one day to make it there.” And then finally your dreams come true and you’re there. Then you look around and Denzel Washington, Halle Berry—oh shit, Rihanna’s at the game—so you seen all them superstars now and they’re coming to watch you play. Now that they’re here—I gotta put on a show. All the ones that I got an MVP in, I always just wanted to put on a show for the fans, for the people and for the crowd.
SLAM: If this whole team captain thing was around during your time, who’s on your squad?
Shaq: Pick a year.
SLAM: We can do any year.
Shaq: No, pick a year.
SLAM: OK, let’s do the 2000s.
Shaq: I’d definitely have A.I. on my squad, T-Mac, [Kevin] Garnett—I like Garnett. I’d also have White Chocolate on my squad because he’s a very All-Star Game-type player. Alonzo Mourning on my squad because I don’t feel like tussling against him. The other team would probably keep Yao Ming. Kobe didn’t pick me, so I can’t pick him. It’s 2000 and we played together all the time, so it’d be good to just get away and go against each other in the All-Star Game. That’ll be fine. He already picked LeBron [James], so I can’t pick LeBron. I’m going to go with D-Wade. And C-Webb. A lot of guys. GP‘s still in the League so I definitely gotta go with GP.
SLAM: Any untold All-Star stories?
Shaq: I can’t tell you. They’re rated-R. One time, I met a girl named Julia and we were about to fall in love and she met Jeff and then she left me for—that’s a joke [Laughs]. I could see it now: ‘Shaq loses Julia to Jeff.’
SLAM; Is there favorite All-Star Game memory that sticks out to you?
Shaq: My favorite one is the one in Phoenix [in 2009]. I wasn’t even a starter, I was playing for Phoenix at the time and nobody was taking over the game, so I was like, “Man, fuck it.” And the other team didn’t have a lot of bigs, so I’m like every time I get it I’m going to score. Kobe was on that team also and he kept feeding me and feeding me and it felt like old times. So then when they called MVP, it was me and Kobe that got the MVP. My little son Shareef was right there standing. They gave the trophy to Kobe and then [he] gave it to Shareef and I thought that was big because he has kids, too, so he could’ve took it home to his beautiful daughters, but he said to give it to Shareef and he’d get his later. That, right there, was probably my favorite one ’cause one, I was much older [and] wasn’t even really thinking about getting MVP. Got the MVP, shared it with [Kobe] and we had great flashbacks of what we did in 2000 to 2003, and then at the end he gave Shareef the MVP trophy.
SLAM: Speaking of Shareef, he and your other children have experienced plenty of All-Star Games. What’s it like to see them grow?
Shaq: They like it. They get to hangout with the Quavos, see different people and different things. It’s fun for them. As a parent when you see your child having fun, that’s what it’s all about.
SLAM: What did you tell Shareef when he didn’t make the McDonald’s All-American roster?
Shaq: I told him, “Now you have to get back in the lab.” When people don’t think you’re good enough and you think you’re good enough, now you have to show them. People don’t think you’re good enough, well get back in the lab. We don’t cry and complain about not making it. They didn’t pick you, so you think you should’ve been there, now you gotta make them say, “I made a mistake—he should’ve been there.” It’s actually good for him ’cause growing up in a certain environment, he really didn’t go through the same struggles me and you went through. It’s actually good to bring him back down every now and then so he learns how to re-fight ’cause when you have everything, you don’t really have to fight. Crazy thing about his style and the way he’s been playing is I never pushed him to be a basketball player. I told my kids all the time, “We don’t need another NBA player. I need a hedge fund manager, I need an engineer, I need a couple lawyers and somebody to takeover all of these businesses I’m building for the family.” As a proud dad, I’m proud to say I never had to call an AAU or college coach and say, “Look at my son.” He’s done it all on his own. Now that he’s done it all on his own, he’s going to have to learn how to go through the trials and tribulations of what it takes to be great. I’m kind of disappointed he didn’t make it because I wanted him to go on the father-and-son thing, but he’s a strong kid and was really upset. I said, “Well if you’re upset, then get your ass back in the gym and show ’em.”
SLAM: Is there anything you wish you had in your game when you watch Shareef play now?
Shaq: Well I had everything he had, but it’s just that when I was coming up, big guys played the power game inside. I could do all that and it’s especially how I made a name for myself by getting the ball and taking it coast-to-coast, making crazy passes. I learned that from Magic [Johnson]. There was this little white guy who I always used to play against in Germany—his name was Mitch Riles. He looked like Larry Bird and I was Magic Johnson; he had the green Weapons and I had the purple and gold Converse logo. Me and this kid used to fight everyday. We’d play a seven-game series everyday. I learned how to do all the handle and do all that, but when I was coming up I was like Patrick Ewing ain’t shooting jumpers and fadeaways—he’s dunking on people and getting his knees up, so I’m going to do start doing that. I kind of shied away from it, so people starting fearing me and I was like, “You know what, I’m going to play my whole career through intimidation.” But I had everything [Shareef] had. It’s just that I thought when he was born, he was going to be about 6-7, 6-8, so I was training him to be like a T-Mac or a Kobe. And then he sprouted up to be, like, 6-11. The good thing about the way he plays is how all the bigs are playing now—pick-and-pop and all those things. I don’t really pressure him about going inside.
Drew Ruiz is a contributor to SLAM. Follow him @DrewRuiz90. Photo courtesy of American Express/Getty Images.