In the strangest trade in years, the newest member of the Phoenix Suns appears to be Shaquille O’Neal. Shaquille O’Neal also happens to be my favorite interview in the NBA. I’ve sat with him multiple times, but the most recent was less than a year ago.
Since Shaq’s in the news today, I thought it would be worth revisiting. Get ready Arizona, a storm is coming…
April 2, 2007
ME: You remember before last season when you and I were talking about all the new guys the Heat had added?
ME: You were saying how you really felt like you guys had a team that could win the title, and I wasn’t so sure. My question is, did you really think that at the time, or was that just you trying to be a leader and get your message out there?
SHAQ: Yeah, I really thought that. It’s all about chess. I learned that dealing with Phil, that it’s about chess. A lot of teams start out like 55-10, or how many times have you seen a team win 60 games but they don’t win the whole thing? So, you just have to get hot at the right time. And it’s perfect if you can hot going into the playoffs, and that’s exactly what we did. In the first round…who did we play in the first round? Chicago?
ME: Yeah, Chicago.
SHAQ: I knew we could beat them, but we started slow and fumbled a couple of games. It’s like you’re boxing a guy that you know you can beat but the motherfucker gets in a good shot. Then you’ve got to really buckle down and knock them out. That’s how it was with Chicago. Second round was Washington. [Actually, it was Cleveland, but whatever.] We knew we could beat them. And then third round was the one we wanted. We knew once we got past them that we could win it. Now against Dallas, we didn’t have homecourt advantage, and they did what they were supposed to do, they won two games at home. But they didn’t really beat us bad. So we came back here, got game three, four, five. Guys that are winning and hot when they’re winning, they’re good. But a true front-runner, once you start punching on them they get tight. I knew after we won game three we had them thinking. Then after we won each game they were tight. Because see, the pressure was always on them. They were supposed to win anyway. Go to Dallas and read the articles, we didn’t have a shot. So there was no pressure on us.
ME: Was there one moment where you knew the series had turned?
SHAQ: No. Because it’s never over until it’s over. for example, my first championship playing with Phil, we was down 15 with 5 minutes to go, and everybody probably thought it was over. But it ain’t over ’til it’s over. it wouldn’t have been over to me until I turned on the TV and saw Mark Cuban in a parade. So, I done been down two, three games before. I just kept talking to the guys, talking to the guys (punching me on the shoulder like I’m one of the guys). Then you just tell them, Hey, we ain’t got nothing to lose, we’re not supposed to win anyway. Then you can play more free. But I knew we could win.
Just like this year. We have a chance to win this year, too. All the teams that are playing great, they have to maintain it. That’s why I always say it doesn’t matter how you start the date, it’s how you finish the date. (laughs)
ME: Can I quote you on that?
SHAQ: (laughs) No.
ME: Do you take it personally when people dismiss the Heat or you?
SHAQ: I don’t really take it personal, because this society that we’re in, everybody jumps on the bandwagon. If a team wins 15 in a row—Oh, they’re gonna win it! If a guy hits 50 points six games in a row—Oh, he’s gonna win it! So, they’re just jumping on the wagon. You can’t tell until the Playoffs have started. In the West it’s going to be interesting, because there’s a lot of great teams in the West and all of them can’t win. And over here the East is the East. I don’t know where we’re gonna be at to start, but we match up with every team pretty good in a seven game series.
ME: Does it matter where you are?
SHAQ: To me, no. It’d be nice to have some home court advantage, but if we don’t, then we’ll just have to concentrate harder. And when we have to concentrate, we do very well. When our backs are against the wall, we do well.
ME: Is this the hardest season following a championship that you’ve ever been through?
SHAQ: No, no. It’s been a weird season, because once again there was another freak injury for me. I’ve never had an injury where I just go up and pull a muscle or hamstring — it’s always landing funny or something freaky. So this time, wild-ass Chuck Hayes was coming through the middle. Our knees bumped, his knee was messed up for about 6 weeks and I had to get surgery.
ME: As you’ve gotten older, have you felt your body changing on you?
SHAQ: I just can’t do the stuff that the young boys do. Like the out-of-bounds play against the Spurs that the Magic ran where they threw it to Dwight Howard? I probably can’t do it like that. When I was his age, I could do it. But it’s just life. You know, I’m 35. I can still do a lot of things well, but my vertical has probably gone from a 34 to like a 29. The older you get, you start losing athletic ability. But I didn’t start winning until I started losing athletic ability.
SHAQ: Yeah. Because from like 22 to 30, I had it all, but I didn’t win my first championship until I was 29.
ME: Because losing athletic ability forces you to understand the game better?
SHAQ: Yes. It forces you to just calm down and look at things from a mental standpoint and get it done. Rather than just trying to out-jump everybody and outshoot everybody. You’ve got to be smart.
ME: Do you ever stop and wonder why your life has happened to you? What I mean is, why did you turn out to be 7-3? Why did you turn out to be a great athlete and have a sense of humor and have millions of fans and you’re running down criminals and all this crazy stuff?
SHAQ: No, no. Because my life is how I programmed it to be. As a youngster I used to sit there and watch everybody. When you’re building your character, sometimes you can build it from scratch or sometimes you can cheat. I cheated. I took a little bit from everyone. I took a little bit of Ewing, Robinson, Hakeem, Jordan, the smile of Magic, plus my own juvenile delinquency. And there you have me.
ME: Do you think if you were 6-1 and 200 pounds you’d still be in the NBA?
SHAQ: If I was 6-1, 200 pounds, I’d have to be a helluva shooter and I’d have to be a helluva athlete, say like Kobe or Dwyane. If I wasn’t in the NBA, I’d probably be like a straight-up cop, a street cop.
ME: Whatever happened to all the movies, the albums, all that stuff?
SHAQ: I put that on hold because I wanted to just concentrate on winning. The albums I did, shit, I did six: two platinum, two gold, and two double-wood. (laughs) I had fun. For me it wasn’t about going platinum, it was about a guy from a different genre mixing it up with the best of that field. For me, even if I didn’t sell one album, I went platinum in my mind. I did an album with Biggie, and Nas, and Jay-Z, and Mobb Deep. I did it with everybody.
ME: Please don’t forget Fu Schnickens.
SHAQ: And Fu Schnickens. Which means they liked my skills enough to get on my album. Because I didn’t pay those guys. I just called and said, Hey, I’m doing an album, do you want to get on with me? And they liked my skills enough to get on with me.
ME: Did they like your skills enough or was it that they liked you enough?
SHAQ: Well, probably both, a little bit of both. But just think about it: If I couldn’t rap a little bit, Biggie wouldn’t have got on a track with me. I’m not saying I’m as good as he is, but I held my own on that “You Can’t Stop The Reign” track.
ME: Do you ever get to spend time alone?
SHAQ: All the time. I’m a loner. Yeah I have kids and a wife and all that, but when I’m on the road I’m in the room watching TV. I’m always alone. (huge crash in the background from workers moving stuff around) They’re tearing this fucking arena up.
ME: It’s interesting to me that you kind of live a life without consequences. You can pretty much say whatever you want or do whatever you want and get away with it for the most part.
SHAQ: I live a life with minimal/drastical consequences. For instance, Tim Hardaway probably felt that way. You know, he said something and now he’s struggling with that. So, I’m smart. However, I’m not going to let the system influence me on what I say. But you have to be smart about certain situations.
ME: You’ve said stuff, like the Yao Ming thing, that caused a stir, but people knew you didn’t mean anything bad by it.
SHAQ: Listen, when I did that Yao Ming thing, I was just saying the same shit we saw growing up. It’s not like I made that up. And I’m a comedian. When I say a joke and people don’t laugh, that’s not my problem. It’s just strange that when a person doesn’t know you and they hear something that could be construed as bad, they say, Oh, he’s racist. I’m a comedian. I like to laugh. I like when comedians talk about me. They know I’m funny. The whole world knows I’m funny. And those who don’t know, that’s not my problem.
ME: What’s your favorite song to sing in the shower?
SHAQ: “I am whatever you say I am!” Eminem. Hip-hop, R&B, these guys, believe it or not, relieve stress for me. I’m sure I can relieve stress for them sometimes in a big game. Whenever I have problems or think I have problems? For example, that shit you was playing today, I’d ride around listening to that for about an hour and I’ll come home happy. Music and drums and sounds…
ME: Is there anything you’re afraid of?
ME: At all?
ME: What about like for the well-being of people you love?
ME: How do you have that self-assurance?
SHAQ: It’s not that I have self-assurance, it’s just that I’m programmed for everything. And then, I’m a believer that what you put into the universe is what happens, so I don’t put nothing negative into the universe. And then if something does happen, my skills that I’m programmed to do will kick in, if you know what I mean. So I’m not going to run around with bulletproof vests. You know what I’m trying to say.
ME: Do you have regrets about anything?
SHAQ: (thinks for a while) Yeah, I wish I would have concentrated a little bit more on my free throws. And I wish I would have concentrated to stay injury-free. Because I did some simple math the other day: I’ve missed like 218 games. Let’s just say at worst I’m averaging 20 a game. That’s 4,000 points, and that would be 29,000 for my career right there. And then if I hit a couple more free throws, I should be at 30,000 points already. So I regret that because that’s something that you really can’t get back. And I would have liked to be up there already in the 30,000 club. Right now I’m number 12 all-time in scoring, and I will be in the top 10 when I retire, but being in the top three would have been real nice.
ME: Your free throw shooting is so interesting me, because pretty much everything else in your life that you’ve set out to conquer you’ve been able to do, but free throws have always been your kryptonite.
SHAQ: It’s because I’ve never been a shooter, and I’ve never been a percentage guy. For example, last year, Dirk Nowitzki, an 80-percent free throw shooter. An important game here? He missed it. So I’ve always just tried to hit the ones I need to hit. That’s always been my theory. My wife says I have ADD all the time, which is true. A 48 minute game? I can’t concentrate for all 48 minutes. That’s why the first two, three minutes I always like to get into the game and then just react. Because if you come into a game at 100-percent concentration, there’s nowhere to go. Because then you’ve got to stay at 100-percent concentration for all 48 minutes, and that’s hard to do. There’s only two or three people who could do that— Magic did it, Jordan did it, Bird did it. But that ain’t me. I can’t come in at 100, so I like coming in at 80 and then getting to 100. That’s why people always talk about at the beginning of the season, He’s not ready. I know what I’m doing. I’m coming in chill and then I work my way up to where I am now.
ME: I’ve heard you talk more and more over the last year or so about wanting to buy an NBA team when you retire. Is that something you’re serious about?
SHAQ: Yeah, I would like to either work for this organization or work for Orlando.
ME: In what capacity?
SHAQ: General manager? President? I don’t want no BS job. “Director of SLAM magazine!”
ME: Director of alumni relations?
SHAQ: (laughing) Exactly! If I’m gonna do this, it’ll probably be a real job. And my second thing would be being a sheriff, and my third option would be a businessman.
ME: I was thinking about this and figured the perfect job for you would be Commissioner of the NBA. Because you’ve got the business side, you’ve got the PR side, you played in the League forever, all the players respect you…
SHAQ: No, it’s too hard. I would like to be the president of All-Star relations. (I laugh at him) No, I would. For example, how I would make the dunk contest interesting: David Stern has all these sponsors, right? So, Rolls Royce would be the number one sponsor. First place would win that brand new Phantom. Second place would be a Maybach and third place would be a convertible Benz or something. And then you’ll get the Vince Carters and the Kobe Bryants, and then it’ll be real. Because the last four dunk contests have been fucking terrible. You have to up the ante. Guys don’t want to go out there for just $25,000. All these sponsors, they give away cars all the time. So I think sometimes when dealing with people like us, David Stern needs people like us upstairs, rather than the old guys who’ve been around forever. Because times have changed, and you either need to change with the times or the times will run you over.
ME: Do you think the NBA has fallen off from what it was back when you were a kid?
SHAQ: It’s different. When I was coming up, every team had a star. Every team doesn’t have a star now, and then the guys that they try to make stars aren’t really stars all the time. I think you have to make yourself a star and not have people try to make you a star. I think if you make yourself a star you’ll be respected. I’ve been in 15 years, and I get respect in every arena. Sometimes they boo, sometimes they clap. I killed every ninja in front of me to become the Shogun. And that’s just how I did it.
ME: Are you still the most dominant player in the League?
SHAQ: Most dominant? Yeah. I don’t really get to showcase a lot of that because of the defenses, but yeah, I am. Everybody talks about Ming, but I’m the Shogun and his has to go through me in a championship series to take my crown. He just can’t outscore me one or two games and then say he’s the best. It don’t work like that.
ME: You still think you’ll keep playing until your contract is up in 2010 and then that’ll be it?
SHAQ: Probably. I mean, I’ll be 38, so I don’t know. But again, if somebody makes me an offer I can’t refuse, I might can do something.
ME: Where did the nickname Diesel come from?
SHAQ: Diesel means power. The most powerful gas is diesel. The most powerful truck on the street is diesel. Diesel fuel burns the longest. And you can’t set diesel fuel on fire. You set a match to diesel fuel, it won’t catch on fire. You didn’t know that, did you?
ME: Well, no, I didn’t know that. But to be honest I’m not sure you’re right about that, either.
SHAQ: Look it up on the internet. I know you don’t believe me. You’re sitting there like, “What the fuck is Shaq talking about, bullshitting me…” I didn’t know it either; somebody told me that. It was just a name I always had, Shaq Diesel, because I’m like a truck, a big ol’ truck with no brakes, and I can’t be stopped.
ME: And does your shoulder tattoo say Above The Law?
SHAQ: Yeah, Above The Law, which means like, It’s Above The Law to…wait…(looks at his shoulder) Against The Law. Like, it’s against the law to be this good looking, against the law to be this talented, against the law to be this funny. That’s what I meant by that tattoo. A lot of people see it and say, “How you gonna be sheriff and have that tattoo?” That’s what it means.