Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most dominant players in the NBA’s history, and it’s not just because of his size. At the peak of his career, he was unstoppable on the court. The legendary player was practically born to play basketball, but he had to work hard to achieve success.
He came from a tall family, so height was always on Shaq’s side, but he spent hours a day practicing his basketball skills to become an amazing player. While he no longer plays on the court, Shaq uses his big personality as a commentator. Find out how he became the icon he is today.
Born on March 6, 1972, in Newark, New Jersey, Shaquille O’Neal had basketball in his genes. His mother, Lucille O’Neal, had just graduated high school when she gave birth, and his father, Joe Toney, was an All-State guard. The two didn’t have a good relationship, and Lucille wanted her son to have a better life.
Toney was offered a full scholarship to play for Seton Hall, but he lost it because of his drug addiction. When Shaq was a toddler, Tony went to prison for drug possession and never came back into his son’s life. Lucille had him relinquish his parental rights to Shaq’s stepfather.
He Was Highly Involved
His stepfather, Phillip Harrison, was a tough parent who often relied on physical discipline to keep Shaq in check. He said he’d rather punish Shaq himself than see someone else do it on the streets. Although he was rigid, Shaq loved Harrison for keeping him out of trouble.
Like Shaq’s biological father, Harrison was also a ballplayer. He coached Shaq’s youth basketball teams during his childhood. As a military man, Harrison gave Shaq direction and was the fatherly figure he needed. He provided him with a fulfilling childhood that Toney couldn’t. Shaq considered Harrison as his real father.
A Safe Space
By the time he was ten, Shaq was already 6’4”. His intimidating height caused several kids to quit the youth basketball teams, so Shaq stopped playing. He didn’t like the criticism from the other parents, who accused him of being older than his age. Instead, Shaq found a safe space to practice.
Shaq would go to Newark’s Boy & Girls Club every day after school to shoot hoops. He didn’t have a team to play on, so he spent hours practicing his shooting skills. He credited the community center for keeping him off the streets and providing him with a safe place to play.
From Germany to Texas
Due to Harrison’s military career, the family moved to a base in Germany for three years. They returned to the states when Shaq was 16 and settled in San Antonio, Texas. By that time, he was 6’10”, and his high school was eager to have him play on the basketball team.
Shaq started playing at Robert G. Cole High School during his junior year and led the team to a 68-1 record over two years. He also helped his team win the state championship in his senior year. Shaq still holds the state record for a player in any classification.
A Familiar Face
After graduating, Shaq earned a spot on the Louisiana State University team coached by Dale Brown. He met Brown years earlier while in Germany and was excited to play on his team. During his time at LSU, O’Neal was a two-time All-American.
Under Brown, Shaq was also a two-time SEC player of the year and received the Adolph Rupp Trophy as NCAA men’s basketball player of the year in 1991. Although he was in the middle of his business degree, Shaq left LSU to pursue an NBA career.
Due to his size and records, it was no surprise that Shaq was the first overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft. The Orlando Magic snatched him up for his rookie season, and he proved to be a valuable asset. In his first pro game, Shaq took 18 rebounds.
Shaq set the record for the most rebounds in an NBA debut after Bill Walton in 1974. The Magic knew they picked the right player because Shaq helped them win 20 more games than the previous season. Shaq was named Rookie of the Year that season.
How Tall Is Shaquille O’Neal?
By his high school graduation, Shaq was fully grown, standing at 7’1”. While basketball players are known for being tall, his size was intimidating even to professional players. He was about 300 pounds when he entered the NBA, but it wasn’t just his size that made him great.
During his rookie season, Shaq averaged 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, the Magic missed the playoffs in a tie-break with the Indiana Pacers. He started strong, but he wasn’t a fan of the team’s head coach, Matty Guokas.
The Reassignment Helped Him
On several occasions during his debut season, Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum overheard Shaq complain about head coach Guokas. He expressed that he wanted assistant coach Brian Hill to replace him. Shaq got his wish the following season when Hill was made head coach.
Guokas was reassigned to the front office, and Shaq’s record improved under Hill’s supervision. Shaq’s scoring average was 29.4 points per game in his second season, making him second in the league to David Robinson. Shaq led the Magic to the playoffs that year.
He Finished His Degree
Although he left college early, Shaq continued his studies during his professional career. He did well in his classes and had the highest grade point average on his freshman year team. Shaq went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree despite his busy basketball schedule.
Shaq later earned his doctoral degree towards the end of his playing career. His degrees show how dedicated he was to the game and his education. Shaq expressed how important it was for him to keep learning even after graduation. He had plans to attend law school.
Inspired By an NBA Legend
Shaq tended to make hook shots in high school, earning him comparisons to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It inspired him to wear the same jersey number as Abdul-Jabbar, number 33. However, his high school didn’t have a 33 jersey, so he settled for number 32.
When Shaq played at LSU, he nabbed number 33 but had to go back to 32 in his rookie season because Terry Catledge refused to give up his 33 jersey. For the remainder of his career, Shaq wore number 32 and did just fine without Abdul-Jabbar’s number.
Left Off the Dream Team
For the 1992 Summer Olympics, Team USA reserved one spot for a collegiate star on the basketball team. Shaq was a junior at LSU and fully eligible. However, the spot went to Christian Laettner from Duke. Team USA thought he was more polished than Shaq.
In 1992, the international free-throw lane was designed differently than traditional courts, so the committee thought Shaq would lose his effectiveness at the games. He was angry about the decision because he was jealous, but he made the Olympic team four years later.
Sickened by the Smell of Alcohol
While most people are excited to turn 21 to drink legally, it didn’t matter to Shaq. He might have been the new face of college basketball and the life of the party, but he couldn’t drink alcohol. He couldn’t even tolerate the smell of wine.
When he was 13, Shaq’s dad caught him drinking a beer and punished him by forcing Shaq to drink a 12-pack. He got so drunk and sick. The punishment caused Shaq to hate beer, and he never had the urge to drink again.
The NBA Changed the Rules
Shaq defeated many opponents throughout his career, and some of them were made of metal. During a game against the Pheonix Suns in 1993, Shaq went in for a powerful dunk causing the backboard and basket to collapse. The hoop had to be wheeled into the tunnel for mid-game repairs.
This wasn’t the only time that happened to Shaq. He made a habit of ruining the equipment, scaring NBA officials into changing their rules. They started reinforcing the baskets and turned breaking the basket or backboard into a technical foul.
He Feuded With Kobe
The most prominent portion of Shaq’s career was spent on the LA Lakers. During his eight seasons with the team, he and the late Kobe Bryant did not get along. When Bryant was drafted to the Lakers straight out of high school, Shaq told the team he wasn’t going to “babysit.”
Bryant was standoffish during his first few seasons and kept his teammates at a distance. Shaq didn’t like Bryant’s cockiness because he came into the NBA saying he would lead the Lakers in scoring and be the best player in the NBA.
He Hazed Kobe
Shaq wanted to put Bryant in his place, so he hazed him. The Lakers general manager, Jerry West, criticized Shaq for being rude to Bryant in their first season together. Shaq’s intentions were all in good fun, but Bryant was all-business, which came off as selfish.
Shaq nicknamed Bryant “Showboat” because of his flashy offensive moves. When the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs after Bryant shot four air-balls, Shaq got annoyed because he knew he would be judged by the team’s shortcomings. Bryant needed to learn how to be a team player.
Is Shaquille O’Neal Married?
After meeting in 1996, Shaq and Shaunie Nelson got married in December 2002. Shaq altered his vows during the ceremony to say “for richer or for richer.” They both came into the union with a child from previous relationships, but they made it work.
After having four children together, Shaq filed for divorce from Nelson in 2007. They managed to reconcile and withdraw the divorce, but it didn’t last. In 2009, they refiled for divorce and officially ended things. They cited irreconcilable differences, but there was another reason.
He Blamed Kobe
When Shaq and Nelson separated in 2007, he blamed Bryant for the divorce. While defending himself against a 2004 rape charge, Bryant alleged that Shaq had to pay up to $1 million to several women to keep them quiet about his affairs. Shaq said it was ridiculous.
After the separation, Shaq added a line in his 2008 freestyle rap that said, “I’m a horse, Kobe ratted me out, that’s why I’m getting divorced.” When the couple officially ended things in 2009, Nelson alluded that the cheating allegations were true.
How Many Kids Does Shaquille O’Neal Have?
Shaq has six children. He had his first child, Taahirah O’Neal, with his ex-girlfriend, Arnetta Yardbourgh, in 1996. When he married Nelson, she had a son from a previous relationship, whom Shaq raised as his own son. The couple then had four children together, Shareef, Amirah, Shaquir, and Me’arah.
Almost all of his children followed in Shaq’s footsteps and played basketball on their school teams. After transferring from UCLA, Shareef went to LSU, Shaq’s alma mater, and played for the Tigers. Shaq is proud of all of his children.
Traded to Miami
The feud between Bryant and Shaq came to a head during the 2003-2004 season. They got into physical altercations during practices, and their arguments had to be mediated by a fellow teammate. By the end of the season, Shaq was furious with the Lakers.
Shaq felt that the organization was making moves designed to appease Bryant. He didn’t like the direction the Lakers were going in and demanded to be traded. Shaq’s demands were met, and he was traded to the Miami Heat. Bryant then signed with the Lakers for seven years.
He Became a Deputy Marshal
Shaq had been interested in becoming a police officer and decided to go through the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Reserve Academy while playing for the Lakers. He became a reserve officer with the LA Port Police and was given an honorary US Deputy Marshal title in 2005.
Shaq also became the spokesperson for the Safe Surfin’ Foundation. He served an honorary role on the task force to track down sexual predators targeting children on the internet. When he moved to Miami, he started training to become a Miami Beach reserve officer.
He Made a Difference
When Shaq was sworn in as a Miami Beach reserve officer, he asked for a private ceremony to avoid taking attention away from the other officers. He assumed a $1-per-year salary because he didn’t need the money and just wanted to help.
Shortly after becoming an officer, Shaq witnessed a hate crime and called the police. He helped by describing the suspect and tracking down the offender. As a result, two suspects were charged with aggravated battery, assault, and a hate crime. He later participated in a 2006 home raid.
Shaq Daddy on the Mic
Besides his love of basketball, Shaq is also passionate about music. He started his rapping career in 1993, and naturally, his rapping abilities were criticized. However, his debut album, Shaq Diesel, received platinum certification. He also rapped on Michael Jackson’s “2 Bad.”
Shaq also released a freestyle rap in 2008 calling Kobe Bryant out for telling everyone he cheated on his wife. Outside of rap music, Shaw also conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra at the Boston Symphony Hall in December 2010. He loves to perform whenever he can.
The New York Times Hated His Acting
Shaq is one of the first African Americans to portray a major comic book superhero in a motion picture. He starred as John Henry Irons in 1997’s Steel. While the New York Times said he had an “endearing smile’ and “genial personality,” the rest of the review wasn’t so kind.
The NYT went on to say that Shaq’s performance had an “almost total lack of charisma and acting skills.” Critics said he couldn’t “hold a flickering lamp to Robin Williams” when he starred in Kazaam. Maybe Shaq should stick to shooting hoops.
Not a Free-Throw Champ
One of Shaq’s only weak points on the court is his free-throw abilities. He wasn’t great when he had to go to the foul line and missed half his free-throw shots. He had a 52.7 percent free-throw record during his regular NBA career.
During his 19-year NBA career, Shaq never shot more than 60 percent of his free throws. He also only made one three-point shot out of 22 attempts in his career. Unfortunately, Shaq had to face the foul line more than others because of the “Hack-a-Shaq” technique.
The “Hack-a-Shaq” Wasn’t Meant for Shaq
While the technique is named after Shaq, it was initially invented to stop Dennis Rodman. Former Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson asked Bubba Wells to foul Rodman as many times as possible during a December 1997 game. He knew Rodman wasn’t good at free throws.
Nelson’s strategy worked, so he used it to victimize Shaq next due to his poor free-throw record. The strategy spread through the NBA quickly, causing a rule change in 2016. The league wanted to stop intentional fouling and slow down the “Hack-a-Shaq” technique.
He’s a WWE Fan
Shaq has been a WWE fan for years and has made several appearances on WWE Raw. In one of the shows, he faced off against seven-foot-tall wrestler Big Show. His favorite wrestlers are Tony Atlas, Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant, and Brock Lesnar.
In April 2016, Shaq participated in his first real match as a surprise celebrity entry in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32. There were rumors about Shaq officially joining the WWE, but it never came to pass. It would have been interesting to see.
A Man of Many Names
Since Shaq became a well-known baller, he has made up many nicknames and created alternate personas. His nicknames include Shaq Diesel, The Big Aristotle, MDE (Most Dominant Ever), Big Shamrock, Dr. Shaq, and Shaq Fu, which became a video game by the same name.
The Big Fella (another one of his nicknames) doesn’t just give himself special names; he has also coined pseudonyms for other players. He started calling San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan “The Big Fundamental.” The monicker has stood the test of time.
Saying Goodbye to the Sport
After 19 long years in the NBA, Shaq announced his retirement in 2011. In his final season with the Boston Celtics, Shaq missed several games due to knee, calf, hip, and Achilles injuries. His body couldn’t take the intense strain anymore.
The Heat and Lakers retired his jersey a few years after Shaq’s retirement, making him one of just 32 athletes to have their jersey retired by more than one team. Many thought he could have done more in his playing career, but there is no denying his legendary status.
Major Stake in eSports
One of Shaq’s nicknames should be The Big Controller because of his major stake in eSports. Shaq was early to invest in eSports. In 2016, he, Alex Rodriguez, and Jimmy Rollins got involved in an ownership group that has a stake in NRG Gaming.
Today, Shaq is the general manager of Kings Guard, the Sacramento Kings’ entrant into the NBA’s official 2K league. Competitors face off in NBA 2K, the organization’s official video game. He has also appeared in commercials to promote Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league.
Reuniting With His Dad
When Shaq started to make a name for himself, his biological father tried reaching out. Shaq didn’t want anything to do with him, so he ignored Toney. He even left a game through the back entrance to avoid running into his father.
In his 1994 rap “Biological Didn’t Bother,” Shaq shared his disdain for Toney, saying, “Phil is my father.” However, he agreed to meet him in 2016, shortly before his Hall of Fame induction. Shaq said, “I don’t hate you. I had a good life. I had Phil.”
How Much Is Shaquille O’Neal Worth?
As of 2022, Shaq’s net worth is $400 million, making him one of the richest athletes. After retiring from playing basketball, Shaq became a sports analyst on TNT with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley. He also made his money through other business ventures.
Outside of sports, Shaq invested in a tech startup in 2015 and has developed housing projects in Newark, New Jersey. In 2016, he purchased a Krispy Kreme in Atlanta and became the company’s national spokesperson. Shaq is also on the board of directors for Papa John’s.
Million Dollar Day
Today, Shaq has plenty of money to spend, but he once went a little too crazy with his money. After earning his first million dollars from an endorsement deal in 1992, he went to the Mercedes dealership and purchased a $150,000 car.
When he showed his dad the new purchase, he wanted the same car. Shaq returned and spent another $250,000 on cars for his mom and dad. Shaq forgot to factor in his agent’s 15 percent cut and federal property taxes, causing him to spend more than he made.
Making Them Earn it
Although Shaq has millions to his name, he said his children have to earn their own money. He told a reporter, “My kids are older now. They’re kinda upset with me. Not really upset, but they don’t understand. I tell them all the time that we aren’t rich; I’m rich.”
He wants his children to be educated, and if they want investments from him, they will have to present their ideas and convince him to give them money. Shaq doesn’t care what career paths his children choose as long as they prioritize their education.
Shaq found a love for DJing in his early teenage years. He was inspired by hip-hop turntablists of the ‘80s and wanted to try it. He saved money from doing chores around the neighborhood and bought himself a turntable setup. In high school, Shaq played gigs to earn extra money.
He goes by DJ Diesel when he is behind the turntables and performs just for fun. He once performed at the Tomorrowland festival in Belgium and Electric Daisy Festival in Las Vegas. Shaq always has a huge smile when he sees the crowd jamming to his beats.
His Deputyship Was Revoked
The Bedford County, Virginia, and Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff’s departments revoked Shaq’s deputy status in 2008. A video surfaced of Shaq rapping about Bryant using racial slurs. The sheriff’s departments didn’t want to be associated with that kind of language.
Although his deputyship was revoked in those counties, Shaq was sworn into the sheriff’s department in Clayton County, Georgia, in 2016. He holds the record for being the tallest sheriff’s deputy. Shaq is more of a symbolic figure and doesn’t do any law enforcement duties for the department.
Trying to Find Love Again
Following his divorce, Shaq started dating reality TV star Nicole “Hoopz” Alexander, who was on Flavor of Love and I Love Money. The couple dated from 2010 to 2012, living in Shaq’s Massachusetts home while he played for the Celtics.
Two years later, Shaq dated Laticia Rolle. The two got pretty serious and talked about getting engaged and married. However, after four years together, the couple went their separate way in 2018. It was never clear why they ended things abruptly, but Rolle said she felt “free” after their split.
He Crossed the Picket Line
During the Screen Actors Guild strike in 2000, Shaq was fined by the union for crossing the picket line. After winning his first NBA title, he appeared in a Disney commercial, saying, “I’m going to Disneyland.” Shaq was denounced by many actors for going against the strike.
The decision hurt him later in his career. The directors ignored him when he wanted a role in the second X-Men movie. They were still annoyed that he crossed the picket line. Since then, Shaq has only gotten small roles in movies like Smurfs 2.
Sued By His IT Technician
Shawn Darling, Shaq’s IT technician, sued him in 2010 after Shaq tried to plant inappropriate pictures of children on Darling’s computer. Darling said Shaq was trying to protect himself by hacking his mistresses’ voicemails to delete relevant messages. He also alleged that Shaq abused his connections to law enforcement.
Shaq reportedly threw his laptop into a lake to destroy evidence. The court ruled that Darling didn’t file the lawsuit “in good faith,” and he tried to extort $12 million from Shaq in return for thousands of stolen emails. He failed to submit adequate evidence.
A Big Mistake
While Shaq is a beloved athlete, he got himself into trouble in 2014. After posting a photo on Instagram mocking Jahmel Binion, he faced backlash. Binion suffers from Ectodermal dysplasia, and Shaq issued a public apology, adding that he and Binion spoke and became friends.
Despite making amends, Binion sued Shaq for more than $25,000. In 2016, Shaq and Binion settled the lawsuit privately. While he lost that lawsuit, Shaq won over $412,000 in legal fees in 2021 from his court case against Darling. He didn’t need the money.
What Size Shoe Does Shaquille O’Neal Wear?
Shaq is a large man and has the shoe size to match. He wears a size 22 shoe. It must be hard to find his size in a regular store. He got free sneakers throughout his NBA career but struggled to find properly fitting sneakers as a teenager.
He always had large feet, and his parents couldn’t afford the coolest sneakers. He saved money by cutting grass, walking dogs, and babysitting to purchase a pair of Air Jordans. Shaq couldn’t find a size 15, so he bought a smaller size and tried to stretch them in hot water.
He Made Affordable Sneakers
At the beginning of his professional career, Shaq created a sneaker with Reebok. He decided to walk away from the athletic brand when people complained about his sneakers being unaffordable. As someone who once struggled to buy sneakers, he made a more affordable shoe.
He created a brand of kid’s sneakers which were sold at Walmart. The shoes cost between $19 to $29, which were much more affordable. If those had been available when he was a child, Shaq wouldn’t have had to put his Jordans in hot water.
He Got Lazy
Although Shaq had an impressive career, he was lazy in-between seasons. Most of his issues with Kobe Bryant formed due to their different approaches to the game. Bryant never took days off, while Shaq barely worked out during the offseason.
Shaq relied on his size and talent. When the season started, Shaq had to work extra hard to get in shape after letting himself relax in the offseason. Bryant once got into an argument with Shaq for gaining weight before preseason. Luckily, he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.
Peace With Kobe
After years of feuding, Shaq made peace with the late Bryant during the 2009 All-Star Game. Fans witnessed them put their differences behind them towards the end of their careers. The two expressed that it was fun to play together again, earning co-MVP titles.
When Bryant died in 2020, Shaq spoke at his memorial, saying, “Kobe, you’re heaven’s MVP.” He never thought he would be speaking at Bryant’s memorial and was devastated by the loss of his friend. Shaq said they pushed each other to be better players during their rivalry.
His House Is Insane
Shaq’s former Orlando, Florida mansion was just as large and outrageous as the basketball player. Nicknamed the “Shaqapulco,” the 31,000 square-foot mega-mansion featured 12 bedrooms, an indoor basketball court, and a theater room. He initially listed it for $28 million in 2018.
He decided to sell his beloved home because he didn’t spend much time in Florida. Shaq’s home was featured on MTV Cribs, with all the upgrades Shaq added after purchasing the three-acre property in 1993. He added a custom 95-foot swimming pool.