23 Shaqtastic Facts About the Life of Shaquille O’Neal
The Big Aristotle. Wilt Chamberneezy. Diesel. Superman. The Big Shamrock. Hobo Master. They all mean Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant centers in NBA history. He’s also one of the league’s most successful players in the business world and one of its most endearing personalities.
But Shaq wasn’t destined to be a success. He had to navigate a rough childhood marked by harsh discipline and poverty to become the entrepreneur and household name that he is today. From his childhood to his ridiculous sheriff’s deputy application and beyond, this is how Shaq became Shaq.
He Grew up Dirt Poor
Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal was born to a 17-year-old mother on March 6, 1972. Shaquille means “little one” and Rashuan means “warrior,” which would turn out to be a bit ironic, given his eventual size of 7-foot-1. And although his name is Islamic, Shaq’s family was Christian. His grandmother insisted on calling him Shaun.
Shaq was only 7 pounds, 11 ounces when he was born — there was no indication that he would ever be so huge (although his mother is 6-foot-2).
Shaq grew up with two sisters and a little brother in a poor area of Newark, New Jersey where drugs and crime were common. The family moved often because they couldn’t make rent. His mother (pictured) kept them fed with noodles and franks and beans.
Shaq grew at an alarming rate. At one point, his mother physically fought a bus driver who didn’t believe her son was under the age of five and therefore couldn’t ride for free. She later kept his birth certificate with her.
He Was a Big Troublemaker
As a youngster, Shaq would get into fights and break into cars and houses. In return, his father would smack him around.
“The truth is, my dad spent a lot of time beating me… I was really scared of my father. He beat me all the time, but I would never call any of those whuppings unjustifiable. I deserved it. He did it to keep me in line. I swear, if he hadn’t I’d probably be in jail right now — or worse,” Shaq wrote in his autobiography “Shaq Uncut: My Story.”
Shaq is talking about his step-father, Phillip Harrison, aka Sarge. His biological father is Joseph Toney, who was barely part of his life. He tried to get Shaq’s attention after Shaq became famous by going on “The Ricki Lake Show,” which didn’t endear him to his son.
Shaq claimed he stopped getting into fights around the age of 10, where he beat another student so severely that the kid had a seizure. “For a long time afterward when I turned out the light, all I could see was his face with his eyes rolling back in his head,” he wrote.
He did not stop getting into fights. More on that later.
He Was 6-Foot-4 by Age 10
While Sarge’s methods were brutal, he was instrumental in building the future NBA superstar. He taught Shaq that it was ok to dominate other kids on the court and use his size to run people over, according to a story in The Undefeated. By age 10, he was 6-foot-4 and winning games for his youth basketball team singlehandedly.
Sarge was in the military, and so the family frequently moved even more.
His First Job Was at Burger King
Shaq’s first job was at age 13, at a Burger King near a United States military base in Wildflecken, Germany. It didn’t last. Shaq wanted to flip burgers and run the register; his boss gave him a mop and stuck him with janitorial duties. He quit, and it’s unclear if he even lasted a day.
Over a decade later, he would partner with Burger King to introduce the Shaq Pack, a sourdough bacon cheeseburger paired with fries and nacho cheese dipping sauce. Here’s the commercial.
He Was Cut from the High School Basketball Team
Despite being around 6-foot-8 by his early teenage years, Shaq wasn’t very good at basketball. At the first high school he attended in Germany, the basketball team already had another guy the same size as Shaq, but he could actually play. The coach never bothered to learn his name and cut him from the team.
Additionally, Shaq’s knees were suffering from Osgood-Schlatter’s disease, which made playing ball painful.
He Took the 'Shaq' Moniker from Another Player
It’s weird to think that Shaq didn’t come up with his own nickname, which seems so obvious. According to his autobiography, Shaq took “Shaq” from Charles Shackleford, an intimidating player who was playing for North Carolina State at the time. Fans were calling him “Shack,” so Shaq took the name and adopted it.
He Went to LSU to Make ‘Friends’
Shaq learned to play pretty fast and worked his calves until he could jump from 18 inches to 42 inches by the end of his sophomore year. He could dunk on just about anyone, and as his game improved, colleges took note. Louisiana State University nabbed him — not by bribing him, but by bringing him to a football game at Death Valley, LSU’s football stadium.
The spotlight shone on him, the announcer asked the crowd to cheer if they wanted him to come to their college, and they did. Then a girl confirmed that she would indeed “be friends” with him if he came to LSU. That clinched it.
His First Big Paycheck: $1 Million
In 1992, Classic Car paid Shaq $1 million for an endorsement. He wasn’t even signed yet, but he was rich. Although he didn’t have an accountant yet…
He Blew Through That $1 Million in Two Days
Shaq varies on how long it took him to blow through that $1 million deal. Estimates range from a day to two days. He paid off $150,000 worth of debts that his parents had held and then purchased three Mercedes-Benz cars — one for him, one for his mother and one for his step father — for a total of $400,000. Then he went out to “do what all the homeboys do — gotta buy rings and diamonds and earrings and this and that,” he told Business Insider. By the time he was all done, he was $50,000 to $60,000 in debt (in his autobiography, published in 2011, he claims the bank told him he owed $90,000).
He Made a Boatload of Cash at Age 20
But it didn’t matter. In 1992, Shaq was the No. 1 NBA draft pick, snagging a seven-year contract worth around $40 million with the Orlando Magic. But that was just from the NBA. Shaq also earned a $13 million deal with Pepsi, a $15 million deal with Reebok and another $20-$25 million deal in endorsements with Kenner, Spaulding and Scoreboard trading cards, he recalls in his autobiography.
When he went on a spending spree for a stereo system at an electronics store with his mother, she signed him up for the layaway program.
His Rap Career Was ‘Tip Money’
After a brief stint on “The Arsenio Hall Show” where he rapped with Fu Schnickens, Shaq signed a record deal with Jive Records. “Shaq Diesel” sold over a million records and went platinum, with “(I Know I Got) Skillz” making it to No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100.
But thanks to the way record companies can screw musicians, Shaq only received $60,000. His next three albums were less successful. “Shaq Fu: Da Return” sold 500,000; “You Can’t Stop the Reign” sold 207,000; and his last album, “Respect” sold 104,000.
Shaq called his rap career “tip money.”
He Purchased an Enormous Mansion
After signing with Orlando, Shaq picked up a house in Florida for $4 million in 1993. He’s had it ever since, although he has recently been trying to sell it for over $20 million — here’s an in-depth look at Shaq’s mansion.
He Cut a Ferrari in Half to Make a Longer Ferrari
Shaq’s first season in Orlando was a success. The team finished 41-41, winning 20 more games than the previous season, and Shaq scored 1,893 points with an average of 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds per game. During his second season, Shaq lobbied for Magic to take Penny Hardaway as their No. 1 draft pick (the team had managed to get first pick for the second year in a row). The two got into a “who’s richer?” show of one-upmanship.
For example, when Hardaway purchased a Ferrari, Shaq bought two. Then he cut them in half and glued them together to make one long Ferrari. He claimed this in his book and reiterated it in a speech he gave at a library in Sarasota, where he said it “was a terrible business decision.”
There might also be some more to the Franken-Lambo that Shaq is letting on. He likely “cut” the Lamborghini in two in order for him to fit inside of it…and it cost him $600,000, he says in his autobiography.
He Once Kept $250,000 in Quarters in his Bedroom
One of Shaq’s first business ventures was car washes. They were profitable, but his accountant noticed that something didn’t add up — there was about $250,000 missing. Turns out that Shaq Daddy had hoarded $250,000 worth of quarters, stored in wooden rain barrels, in his bedroom, according to his book. He kept it because he wanted to feel like the insane amount of money he was making was real.
His First Lakers Contract Was Enormous
By 1996, Shaq was not a fan favorite. An Orlando Sentinel poll asked readers if Shaq was worth $115 million (the amount he was looking for to re-sign with the Magic); the response was a 10-to-1 vote of no. It was a good excuse to leave Orlando.
Shaq already had his eyes set on California and Hollywood opportunities. The Los Angeles Lakers won him over with a $121 million, seven-year contract. His first year must have cast doubt on whether or not the team made the right decision — Shaq missed 28 games due to a hyperextended knee. But then the Lakers won three straight championships from the 1999-2000 to 2001-2002 seasons.
Shaq’s Shot at Hollywood Was Like One of His Free Throws
Shaq’s stint in Hollywood didn’t start in 1996. Previously, he had a minor role in 1994’s “Blue Chips,” but with minimal screen time. His next movies would feature Shaq front and center. First was the infamous “Kazaam,” for which Shaq was paid $7 million — nearly one-third of the film’s rumored $20 million budget. It was a flop, making just $18.9 million at the box office.
Then there was “Steel,” which was an even bigger flop. It made $1.7 million on its $16 million production budget. He has made a few dozen cameos, but after “Steel,” no production company gave him another starring role opportunity in a feature film.
He Has Earned a Lot of Fines
That thing about Shaq never fighting again? His resolution didn’t last.
Shaq’s first fine was in 1997 for slapping Greg Ostertag to the floor before their teams’ season opener; he was hit with a $10,000 fine and was taken out of the game, which lead to a further loss of $156,794. In 2002, he threw a haymaker at Chicago Bulls’ Brad Miller after Miller fouled him (the punch missed, thankfully), which caused a brawl on the court. The NBA fined him $15,000 and suspended him for three games, for a total of about $800,000 in lost income. In 2010, he was fined $35,000 for making some rather tame comments about a referee, whom Shaq believed was calling too many fouls.
Shaq was fined off the court, too. In 2000, the Screen Actors Guild fined Shaq Diesel $10,000 for appearing in a Disney commercial during its strike.
He Passed Up an Early Investment in Starbucks
Shaq’s biggest investment regret was not investing in Starbucks around 1998. Then-CEO Howard Schultz wanted to expand Starbucks to inner-city communities, but Shaq thought it wasn’t a good idea, that black people didn’t drink coffee. Over dinner, when Schultz asked if he’d like a coffee, Shaq replied that he didn’t drink the stuff. The deal was off, and Starbucks went with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who would go on to make over $70 million from the deal.
At Age 30, He Purchased $100 Million in Affordable Housing
In 2002, Shaq was coming off of a below-average (for the Big Aristotle) season due to a claw toe deformity on his left foot. But he was getting good publicity off the court. Shaq inked a near-$100 million deal for 1,500 affordable housing units in Denver, Colorado. It was his first investment in real estate, but not his last.
Fifteen years later, Shaq and Boraie Development made a joint-venture deal to develop 50 Rector Park (aka Shaq Tower), a 22-story property in Newark that cost $80 million. Two-bedroom units start at $1,800 a month; it opened in mid-2019.
He Makes Affordable Sneakers That Low-Income Families Can Buy
Most basketball superstars’ sneakers are expensive. For example, LaVar Ball’s (father of NBA player Lonzo Ball) sneakers released with a price starting at $495, with a special edition selling at $995. Shaq called him out on Twitter, saying that “real big baller brands don’t overcharge for kids shoes.”
See, Shaq has had an affordable sneaker line since 2004. They can be found at budget stores like Walmart and Payless, and cost as little as $15, with one knit sneaker retailing for $3. Shaq said he has sold over 120 million pairs of shoes.
He’s a Sheriff’s Deputy
Shaq was sworn in as Florida sheriff’s deputy in 2019, but his involvement in law enforcement goes back further than that. In 2004, the Big Shamrock became a Miami Beach reserve officer. Here are some highlights from that application, according to the Miami New Times:
- His “special skills” included “Laptop computer, binoculars, master of surveillance.”
- One of his character references was from Gloria Estefan, who wrote that she knew him “somewhat.”
- Shaq’s response to if he knew what the definition of deadly force was: “Yes; red, yellow, green.”
- He said he did not have investments, savings, a checking account or an automobile.
His application was granted.
He Has a Doctorate in Education and an MBA
Add Dr. Shaq to his list of nicknames. Shaq received an Ed.D. in Leadership in Education from Barry University in 2012, where he studied the use of humor in leadership roles. His capstone project was “How Leaders Utilize Humor or Aggression in Leadership Styles.” It took him 4.5 years and he graduated with a 3.81 grade point average, and he did most course work via video conferencing. He also has an MBA, which he received from LSU in 2005.
He’s Worth Over $400 Million
According to a Forbes report, Shaq is worth over $400 million. And he’ll only keep getting richer — and we’ll get to see a bit more of how the big man lives his life. He has a new reality TV show coming to TNT called “Shaq Life,” which promises “unprecedented access” to the day-to-day life of Wilt Chamberneezy, according to a press release.