Still S.H.A.Q.


by Tzvi Twersky | @ttwersky

There is confusion.

Depending on whom you speak with, Shaquille O’Neal has either been to Rucker Park two, three or four times.

There is certainty.

“I never got to play at Rucker,” says O’Neal. “That’s one of my biggest basketball regrets.”

And there was last night.

O’Neal, as part of Reebok Classic’s promotion for the July 12th return of the OG Shaqnosis, spent the evening at Rucker, located on 155th Street in Harlem, NY.

The 41-year-old, who is still 7-1 but is now a half-a-buck or so above his listed playing weight of 325-lbs, didn’t get to suit up and take the court. He did, however, get to sit courtside and take in multiple EBC games.

Before that, before walking around the Reebok-sponsored wooden court and signing autographs, before taking in his second (or third) (or fourth) trip to Rucker, O’Neal sat down on the handball courts to speak with SLAM.

SLAM: This is a long way from an NBA arena.

Shaquille O’Neal: Yeah, I know.

SLAM: Have you always been into streetball?

Shaq: I’ve been a big fan of streetball. Actually, I did an experiment with my son: I taught him how to play streetball first and then came back and taught him the fundamentals. I’ve always been a big admirer, I’ve just never gotten the opportunity.

SLAM: You’ve never gotten to play at Rucker?

Shaq: Never. I never got to play at Rucker.

SLAM: One of your bigger regrets?

Shaq: (Laughs) One of my biggest regrets.

SLAM: You didn’t grow up privileged, so it makes sense that you learned how to play on the streets. But it must be different for your son, as someone who’s grown up a little more privileged, to play authentic streetball.

Shaq: Yeah, streetball is all about attitude and moves. When I was coming up, I stole my moves from all of my favorite players. I had all the AND 1 tapes and we’re watching all the Ball Up tapes now.

A good friend of mine, SiK Wit It, is working with one of my sons out in L.A. And we watch all Bone Collector’s moves. Bone Collector has this special move that I want to teach my son. I don’t know what it is, but he do some s—. Me and my son, we watch that every day.

SLAM: You used to show your handles off in the NBA All-Star game.

Shaq: Yeah, I’d get to put it through my legs and do a little stuff. But I have a serious streetball game. Like I said, I wish I could have came out here. I just never got the opportunity.

SLAM: You think NBA fans never realized how nice your handles were?

Shaq: Yes! I think they did [sleep on my handles]. I always tell people, I was the first big man to take off after the rebound and bring it all the way down the court under control and do something nice with it—a nice look-away pass or…

SLAM: People talk about all memorable dunks and power moves. Well, what’s your most memorable pass or take off the dribble?

Shaq: Oh yeah. There was a guy named Jerome James on Seattle, and he was guarding me on the baseline. I actually told him what I was going to do to him. I used a move I stole from Skip 2 My Lou, where I danced first and then I came back with it and threw it down on him.

SLAM: So what’s it like, after all these years, to bring the Shaqnosis, a Reebok Classic, back? To be out here today?

Shaq: Shout outs to the kids that are bringing all the kicks back. I think the Shaqnosis actually looks better now—they’re more suited for 2013 than they were ’95-96 when I designed them. When I designed them I was really feeling them, but I didn’t plan for them to come back almost 20 years later. I’ve always liked being different, and they were hot then and they’re still hot now.

SLAM: You’ve had the kicks, and you’ve still got the kicks. You have TV, and you’ve got the drinks. You’re a real entrepreneur at this point.

Shaq: Yeah, I learned from Magic Johnson. You’ve got to own things, and you’ve got to be a businessman first.

SLAM: What that one of the biggest things you picked up during your years as a Laker?

Shaq: Just learning from people, going to school, getting my Master’s degree, my Doctorate, just understanding business. You know, a lot of people don’t understand business. It’s good to have a shoe, but it’s better to own that line, it’s better to own that emblem.

SLAM: I hear that. I have to ask because you’re wearing a Tupac t-shirt: I thought you were a Biggie Smalls guy?

Shaq: I am a Biggie guy, but if you see Pac has my jersey on. So I’m a Pac guy, I’m a Biggie guy.

SLAM: So what else are you up to this summer?

Shaq: Just chilling, taking it easy.

SLAM: But you’re not though.

Shaq: (Laughs).

SLAM: How are you enjoying your post-playing life?

Shaq: People ask me, Do I miss basketball? F— no. I don’t miss it at all.

SLAM: Did you leave the game with any regrets?

Shaq: My only regret is that I missed 350 games and I missed 5000 free throws. I could be at No. 2 in scoring right now.

SLAM: People always focus on your Orlando and L.A. years, but of all the teams you played on which did you enjoy the most?

Shaq: (Pause) L.A., because I made a name for myself. Miami was really good place, too. But after that, it was pretty much over for me.

SLAM: You had the chance to play with Kobe Bryant in his prime, Dwyane Wade in his prime, LeBron James in his prime. Any preference?

Shaq: It’s different. They’re all great players. Kobe will probably always have the advantage because he has five rings, but they’re all great players. I think it would be unfair to say this one was this, this one was that. They’re all different, and I was just fortunate to have guys who were really, really great. Me and Bron didn’t play together long enough. I think if we would’ve played two or three years, we probably would’ve gotten a ring.

SLAM: As someone who did play with LeBron in Cleveland, how much better is he now than he was then?

Shaq: Much better. He’s a great shooter, a great leader, a guy who never panics. Even in that Game 6 (of the 2013 NBA Eastern Conference Finals) when we interviewed him, I was looking in his eye. He knew in his mind that, hey, Game 7 is my game.

SLAM: You think that confidence, that lack of panic, is something new or something he had in Cleveland?

Shaq: Probably something new. Before you succeed you have to fail, and he’s failed a lot of times. He failed that first year when they went to the Finals—Dallas smashed them—and he got better the next year and stepped up. This year he’s stepped even more. So I think now that he has the blueprint, he’ll probably get one or two more.