November 07, 2011
When you look up the definition of "superstar" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Shaquille O'Neal(notes). Few big men have possessed the rare combination of power, speed and agility of Shaq. The ultimate superstar has to have more than skill on the court. He must possess the "It Factor" -- a combination of marketable personality and championship rings. Elite players, such as Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Michael "His Airness" Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal -- "The Diesel," "The Big Aristotle" or "Superman" -- all had the "It Factor."
Shaq had an uncanny sense of how to utilize the media. He trash-talked before games, calling the Sacramento Kings the "Sacramento Queens." He was quick with clever phrases: "Win a ring for the king," he declared after being traded to Cleveland. "Can you dig it?" was another favorite. In my brief time with Shaq, my experience was exactly how I had envisioned: a dream come true. He was always making his teammates laugh. On the bench he would freestyle rap while a dope beat played during a game, or he'd make fun of his teammates on the bus or his opponents during film sessions.
He had an aura that made people want to be around him, and I was one of them. From chilling with him on a plane, to rolling with him to clubs or parties he hosted in various cities, I was there. I remember one night after leaving a party, we were in a limo and Shaq wanted something to eat. All of us had been following Steve Nash's(notes) eating regime. That night we drove thru a McDonald's. Sorry, Steve ... Shaq made me order a burger, fries and a Diet Coke!
Shaq was one of the best storytellers I have ever met, and I sat front row. I was always asking him and his right hand man/security guard, Jerome, questions about their past experiences. He told me about his friendships with Tupac and Biggie Smalls, his beef with Kobe (which was REAL), and the difference in winning the championship in Miami versus Los Angeles. "Nothing compares to L.A," he said. To me, Shaq is more than a basketball player. He is a legend. An icon.
In Phoenix, we used to call him the 50 Cent of the NBA. Shaq always made sure he finished with the upper hand on you whether it was jokes, arguments or on the court. He might not have always started it, but he was the master of finishing it (you all remember the Stan Van Gundy interview).
During Shaq's stay in Phoenix, I felt he was re-energized. Our training staff was one of the major reasons for this. Headed by Aaron Nelson and Mike Eliot with the help of the rest of the staff, they reconditioned and stretched Shaq's body, enabling him to perform at a high level night in and night out. His last year in Phoenix was also his last All-Star appearance. He and Kobe Bryant(notes) were named co-MVP, which may have been eclipsed by his performance with the Jabbawockeez.
Shaq was the master of keeping us loose.
While coaches were giving us their pregame talk, Shaq would be to the side of them either practicing his free throws or running back and forth doing his sprints. We would look at each other and start laughing under our breath. After the coaches were done, Shaq would get about six of us to work on his intro for a game. LeBron was doing his intros, which were all over ESPN, and Shaq didn't want to be upstaged. One time about eight of us carried Shaq onto the court as Superman, another time we were bowling pins being knocked down by Shaq.
His best idea was never used. It was the time we were in Portland for a game. It was going to be on TNT and we needed to win. Shaq was going to be a quarterback, and do a reverse pass that would end in him scoring a touchdown. His celebration dance was going to include him throwing the football into the stands. Good thing we didn't do it because we were blown out. Looking back on that idea, we wished we had done it anyway.
The Big Fella made sure to have his love felt across his team, including the rookies. Making sure they bring him milk and donuts every practice or else. He took great pride in having fellow center Robin Lopez(notes) carry his keyboard and drum beats on the airplane so he could produce his music. He also had Robin carry his chinchilla jacket and hat to the plane. His love didn't stop just at rookies, but extended to fans. After games he took time to shake hands or have a conversation with them. He understood he touched people's lives.
During his downtime in the NBA he had other careers, such as law enforcement, movie roles and music. He was creative, a huge personality, and PR savvy. Think about it -- he has been in seven movies, starred in two (Kazaam and Steel), and while in L.A. he dropped a rap album that went platinum. Now post-NBA, he will soon be a TNT broadcaster with Charles and Kenny.
Shaq got it. This is not the end, it's just the beginning.