During his playing days, it was easy to identify Shaquille O’Neal as the most dominant center in the NBA and one of the greatest players in league history. It’s not that easy nowadays.
Since he retired from professional basketball 11 years ago, O’Neal has branched out and pursued ventures in a wide variety of fields; so much so that everything does not fit his LinkedIn profile.
The 50-year-old has an MBA and the degree of Doctor of Science (his thesis was on “How Leaders Use Humor or Aggression in Leadership Styles”). He is the founder and owner of the Big Chicken franchise 155 Five Guys Burgers, 17 Aunt Ann’s Pretzel stores, and multiple Papa John’s businesses. He performs at music festivals around the world like DJ Dieseland has also collaborated with fashion and jewelry lines, technology products and children’s books.
Not that he’s forgotten about basketball: He became a minority owner of the Sacramento Kings in 2013 before selling his stake earlier this year, and is an analyst on TNT’s beloved Inside the NBA and co-host of The Big Podcast with Shaq.
The list goes on and on.
“I’m just excited to be able to do things to touch people, to make people smile, to have a good time,” O’Neal told the Guardian in Abu Dhabi, where he was helping promote two NBA preseason games. in the Persian Gulf for the first time. “[NBA commissioner] Adam Silver could have called a lot of NBA players, but he called me here, and I’m glad I came.”
O’Neal says he started planning for life after basketball as early as the second season of his 19-year NBA career.
“I was raised to always have something to lean on,” he explains. “My parents were very good at what if you hurt yourself? What if you’re not that good? What will you do? Save some of that money. No, I don’t want a new car, you bought me one last year, save the money. So we will always think about it.
“And then I thought that at some point I would have to retire, I would like to live the same lifestyle. When you come from nothing and you have everything, you want to keep it all. So how can I save it all? You have to come up with clever and inventive ways to make sure my mom keeps that house I just bought her, or my sister keeps the car I bought her.”
O’Neill places great importance on partnering with the right people and has made sure to educate himself on financial literacy.
“The best thing that ever happened to me was that I bought the book The Dummy’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business and my favorite section was joint ventures. Because I’m a big believer in things that are difficult, you break them down to their simplest form,” he says.
After learning that I’m Egyptian, he adds: “For example, if I was going to create media in Egypt, I’d call you because that’s what you’re doing. You run it, you’re going to be the boss, you’re going to be the CEO and you’re going to report to me, and it’s going to be everything, not me living in Atlanta trying to figure out what’s going on in Egypt while you’re there.’
Despite his wide range of ventures, O’Neal remains very close to the NBA.
Like the rest of the world, he is in awe of 7ft 2in French teenager Victor Uembanyama, the most exciting prospect in years and a dead cert for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft.
“A great player, there’s no limit to this guy,” says Wembanyama’s O’Neill. “He’s going to have to go to every level at some point. When I came, I was very nice. Then someone said you need to get better. And then finally they said, “Shaq is a great player.” But I wanted to be bigger than that. And then I wanted to be the greatest, and then I wanted to be the greatest in the world. So if he has that mentality, he will probably be one of the best players ever.
“He has all the tools: [height], dribble, shoot, fade … when he plays like that, no one can stop him. But at some point you have to save – you can’t be happy with where you are.”
O’Neal misses the days when basketball was about battles between big guys under the rim. He blames himself for the evolution of the game away from that physical style of play.
“I miss that big rivalry, and I smile at the fact that the big guys don’t want to play inside anymore, and it’s all my fault,” says the four-time NBA champion. “Because you are a product of your environment; so when I watched the big boys play, they were fighting in the middle. It was like being caught in the middle. right? But then when I came in and started beating people up, the big guys started coming out.
“So you look at guys like Viktor [Wembanyama] now he grew up watching Dirk [Nowitzki]. He grew up watching Tim Duncan and [Kevin] Garnett; they played out. So that’s all they know.’
O’Neal insists he will play the same physical game in this era.
“All that jumping around… it just tells me you don’t like contact. I would just beat you up. And now you’re guarding me, you don’t have those legs and your hands hurt, your shot won’t go anyway,” he says.
Team rivalries also aren’t what they used to be in the NBA — something Silver admits “we thought about a lot.” While Silver notes that rivalries between teams cannot be artificially created, the league will try to promote “rivalry games” if and when they arise.
O’Neal believes that the best players are under so much pressure to win an NBA title that they change teams too often in their quest to win a championship.
“It’s disappointing to be recognized as a great player and not have a championship; especially if you keep trying to do it on your own and you can’t do it, now you have to move on to what’s easy; “Hey, I’ll team up with this guy’s team or this guy’s team,” O’Neill says.
“All of us veterans don’t like it because we like competition. I used to love trying to see the Lakers beat Detroit. Trying to see Detroit beat the Bulls, trying to see us beat the Spurs, that’s competition. So a lot of guys now because of the pressure, they’re teaming up.”
One player who remains in place is Giannis Antecumpo, who has been with the Milwaukee Bucks since they drafted him in 2013. In 2021, he helped guide them to their first NBA title in 50 years.
O’Neill is a big fan of the Greek star and the feeling is mutual. When Antetokounmpo was asked recently what attributes he would take from various legends, he chose O’Neal’s dominance.
Is there anything O’Neal would have liked to have gotten from Antetokounmpo when he was a player?
“I was Giannis before Giannis,” O’Neal said. “It’s just that in our era, they didn’t want big guys running the ball. Every now and then I would tell the trainer to get angry and I would carry him from bank to bank and throw him down. But mostly I did it for the crowd because it was a point in the game where the game was boring and I felt like a dad and son or a dad and daughter weren’t getting their money’s worth; my job was to bring the crowd back and get people into the game.”
More than a decade out of retirement, O’Neill still brings crowds to their feet; even in Abu Dhabi where he was mobbed by fans wherever he went.
Whether it’s Dr. O’Neill, DJ Diesel, or just Shaq; he will always be successful, entertaining and dominant.