Q+A: Shaquille O’Neal


by Abe Schwadron / @abe_squad

Shaking hands with Shaquille O’Neal seems silly. His hand swallows mine like a shark gulping down a guppy. We sit in identical leather chairs on adjacent sides of a glass table, surrounded by images of his likeness and kid-sized versions of his signature sneakers. And while Shaq’s chair disappears as if he were a hockey netminder protecting his goal, I look like a kid sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall.

At least we’re sitting down, I think to myself. “So, Shaq, how’s it going man?”

He says he’s good, just been relaxing. And The Diesel deserves a break, given that it’s been just a few months since he retired from a 19-year NBA career over which time he put 24 and 11 a night, won four titles and took home three Finals MVPs, among the countless other accolades that would take an entire article unto itself to rattle off. Shaq’s dominance on the court was magnified by his gregarious personality off it, and if his latest ventures are any indication, we won’t miss the Big Fella for too long.

Shaq’s already signed up to join TNT’s Thursday Night set with Kenny and Charles, and his book, Shaq: Uncut, has caused a stir for, well, its honesty. O’Neal was in town to promote the book, as well as the launch of Shaq.com, a partnership with the SHAQ brand that merges the larger-than-life center’s personal life with his company. It’s unique, in that it brings together his gear—from kicks to caps—and his personality, through videos, social media and blogging. The Big Aristotle, 24/7, all in one place.

On Tuesday, Shaq showed up at his brand HQ in New York City (with girlfriend Hoopz in tow) to catch up on the latest site developments. And when I was able to steal him away for a few minutes, he told me more about the site, his thoughts on the lockout situation, and even his feelings on the Starbury brand. Below is the best from that conversation. Enjoy, and thanks to everyone at SHAQ brand!

SLAM: How closely are you following the lockout? What are your thoughts on the latest developments?

SHAQ: In ’99 I was really involved, and I was one of the guys that helped get it on track. But I haven’t really been paying attention. It’s not my fight. There’s a lot of stars that should be and that will step up, so they’ll keep fighting. I know the tactic I would use, but I’m not going to disclose that. I’ve always been smart enough to think ahead, even here with the SHAQ brand and with Shaq.com.

SLAM: If I could make you mediator of the lockout, what would you do to end this thing?

SHAQ: I would talk business. You know, the owners talk about how they lose money. So I would tell them that maybe they need to do their own deal, so they can create ways to make money. Second, I would realize that we’re in a recession, so why don’t we do the 50-50 split, and if we get to a certain number [of overall League revenue], then escalate the BRI back up. Instead of focusing on one number that’s going to last for 10 years—we don’t know what the economy is going to be like—so leave it at 50-50, and if we reach a certain number as a League and it raises up, then just keep raising us up. With the economy being what it is, that’s what I would say. But we also need to make a system where the owners are protected from each other, because there are certain teams that have lots of players that are overpaid. And those players are overpaid because when they become a free agent, other teams offer them money, and then their team has to match it. So that’s like the real issue I would focus on, if I was in charge.

SLAM: What if the whole season is lost?

SHAQ: Oh, that would be a shame, especially for the kids, especially for the fans. But if that happens, it’s going to be hard for them to come back and get people’s attention. But, I’m not really worried about that now, because we’ve got a lot going on.

SLAM: One of those things was supposed to be working for TNT. Is it frustrating to not be able to work due to this lockout business?

SHAQ: It’s not frustrating. My job over there is secure for a long time. Right now I’m just sitting back and relaxing, and waiting for them to make a decision, but we’ll be fine, we got a lot going on.

SLAM: What can we expect out of you on the TNT set?

SHAQ: I’m just going to make people laugh, I’m not going to be too serious. I might pick at a few people, but I won’t get personal. It’ll be all for your enjoyment.

SLAM: Talk to me about Shaq.com.

SHAQ: I started my brand in ’99, and since ’99 we’ve sold 75 million pairs. With no advertising. Now, with social media and everything, now we’re in a time when you can just press a button and get product right away. So I’m just thanking the people and showing the people what we’ve created. And it’s a great product. My thing has always been to make something that when a kid sees it, even though it’s only $20, he won’t be ashamed to wear it. And this is $20, bro. You can rock them all day, all these are $20. I think that’s why we’ve sold 75 million pairs. Because they actually look cool. And not only that, but they got a real name behind them. Not Marbury. And you can quote me on that [laughs].

SLAM: How involved are you going to be with the site?

SHAQ: I’m linking it to my Twitter and to my Tout, we’re going to be doing scavenger hunts, we’re going to be offering jobs, I’m going to be giving away money. We’re going to have a lot of fun. A lot of fun.

SLAM: In the intro to your book, you said that for most NBA players, the end to their playing career means the end to their lives, but that you see your retirement as just the beginning. Is this part of that?

SHAQ: Well, this has been going on. But now is the time to blast it out, and continue it. There was a lot of “he’s not playing anymore, is he gonna still do it?” but I’m the third most recognizable face in the world. And just got to keep giving the people great product. I have a lot to fall back on, a lot of things to do, and this is what it’s all about. You know, as an adult, you have dreams, you have goals. As a kid, it’s somehow I gotta make it to college. My dad couldn’t afford it, so if I don’t make it to college, I’m going into the Army. So I got a scholarship, and now I’m in college and it’s “I gotta get drafted.” If I don’t get drafted, what am I going to do? I’m smart but I don’t think I could do the 9-to-5 thing. So I get drafted, first four or five years you make a lot of money and you’re playing. And then towards the end of your career, it’s “what am I gonna do if I’m not playing?” I’m lucky that I’ve built this and have a lot to fall back on. Worst comes to worst I’ll just move to New York, get a little apartment and be in here (SHAQ brand offices) every day.

SLAM: Did you intend for a lot of the pieces of your book to come off as jabs at guys you’ve played with, like Rondo for instance?

SHAQ: Everything that is said, or read, has its own interpretation. People interpret things their own way, which I understand. But what they don’t understand is, they’re going to help put me on the bestseller’s list. Those guys know me, and everybody knows me—I don’t take cheap shots. Anything I say in the book, I will say in your face. This is just a reflection, being reflective on what has happened. And I wasn’t being mad at Rondo, I just thought that when the President said, “Teach this kid how to shoot,” that maybe that affected him. And that’s my opinion, I’m not taking shots. A lot of guys, especially the ESPN guys, those guys have personalities and have followers, so if they talk about something spicy, then it makes them important. “Look what Shaq said.” But those guys have no validity. It’s all just a reflection, this book. And hey, anybody who got a problem, come to Shaq.com [smiles]. Holla back.

SLAM: Are there parts of the book you wish people focused on more?

SHAQ: No, ever since whoever created the internet came out, my life has been an open book. What you see is what you get. So I’m going to just to tell a few stories, and open up. Other than that, it’s all the same.

SLAM: On the sneaker front, have you thought about the challenge of selling sneakers post-retirement? Not a lot of guys have the ability to do that.

SHAQ: I’ve thought about it, but luckily, by the grace of my great teammates, and by the grace of God, I’m more than just a basketball player. A lot of kids know Shaq, whether it’s by Kazaam, or through their parents, so we’re going to be fine for a long time. I know how to make people laugh and how to keep people laughing.

SLAM: You wore a lot of different shoes during your career. Do you have an all-time favorite sneaker?

SHAQ: Not really. I never could afford the Jordans, I had the Reebok Pumps, but I really didn’t like them, I had some Buddies. Buddies shoes had its own thing, you remember the Buddies theme song? Here it goes. Buddies, they make your feet feel fine/Buddies, they cost a dollar ninety-nine. I actually got into a long fight because of that shoe. But actually, you know what my favorite shoe is? The Shaq shoe. Growing up a medium level juvenile delinquent and now being able to have my own shoe, its nice.

SLAM: During the lockout, a lot of NBA guys have been making music. Have you heard any? What do you think of it?

SHAQ: I was on some site last night, and I saw Stephen Jackson’s. It was very hard, but it was pretty good. But it was just too hard, a lot of people won’t be able to take that, but that’s where he’s from, a tough area, and a lot of people won’t like the language, but I liked it. It was nice, he was inside the track, he had a great time. A couple other guys, though, they need to understand that when you’re an expert in this world, and you cross over into another world, you better come correct, or else. See like Marbury tried to cross over into my world, and he didn’t last long. And you can quote me on that, too. Talking about he was going to have the best shoe, get outta here. No way. Stop it.

SLAM: Last question, since you are a man of many nicknames, can we expect any new nicknames post-retirement?

SHAQ: There will be one and one only: Dr. Shaq. Hopefully I graduate in March. I’m still working on my dissertation, it’s not really looking that good, I haven’t been able to concentrate on it. After this book tour, I get to take three weeks off, and I’m going to just get in homework mode. You know you got to write it, do all the research, so it takes a while.