Shaquille O’Neal - Key Witness

There are some things that everybody knows about Shaq. For starters, he is a seven-foot-one-inch, 325-pound giant, a fact that has greatly contributed to him becoming one of the best basketball players of all time. He is funny, recognized as a notoriously quote-worthy celebrity and loves the limelight. He also likes winning—national championships mostly—and is therefore very confident. He speaks his mind unabashedly to anyone anywhere. And he reached the elevated status of being referred to by only the first four letters of his first name a long time ago. Yes, these things we know.

But his larger-than-life poise is a sharp dichotomy to the insecure city where he has now taken up home. It’s no secret that Cleveland’s economy is shaky, hinging on the success of its basketball team. More precisely, Cleveland’s economic future is hinging on the security that an NBA championship would give to the likelihood of LeBron staying planted in the zip code after his contract expires next year. And with the Cavs’ acquisition of its new celebrity player, the morale of Clevelanders and Cavs fans alike—and the elephant in the room: keeping the city’s flailing economy afloat—are resting on the hulking shoulders of a confident Shaq. Hopes are that he’ll gel with the team successfully, and they can achieve this season’s one and only goal: Win the King a ring.

But all pro-athlete pressures are momentarily cast aside during our Q&A with Shaq. We snagged some time with the big guy before the mania of basketball season hit full swing. We aimed to discover something about the legend that isn’t quite mainstream knowledge. Anyone who lived through the 90s was enlightened by the products of Shaq’s fledgling film and rapping careers, but “actor,” “musician” and “pro-baller” are not where his professional resume ends. We found out Shaq has balanced his NBA and Hollywood pedigrees with an MBA from the University of Phoenix, and soon—after the obligatory paperwork and procedures are finalized—he will be a Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Deputy. Shaq might be this season’s gift to LeBron, but it was a present for us to pick the brain of the self-monikered “Big Aristotle.”

Promises are for____.

Mailmen. Like me, they deliver.

If you had to drive cross-country, but you could only have one CD and the radio antenna was broken off, what CD would you want?

Notorious B.I.G.’s first CD [Ready to Die].

Are you and LeBron going to have a special handshake?


What is your new nickname in Cleveland?

Witness Protection.

Do you still own and ride your custom Jesse James motorcycle?

No. Danny Ferry [Cavs GM] told me I couldn’t.

At Robert G. Cole High School you had a 68-1 record. Who beat you, and how?

Liberty High School. We got beat by a bunch of white guys who shot nothing but threes.

You have a BA in General Studies from LSU. Was there a concentration?

Yes, I concentrated very well, every day and at every class.

What’s the biggest celebrity phone number in your cell?

Can’t tell you. I’d get in trouble.

You’ve been called many things, and you’ve named yourself many things. What are the best and worst?

Worst, “Shaq-squash,” and best, “Big Aristotle.”

Before going to the Magic during your first season in the pros, you spent some one-on-one time with Magic Johnson. Why him, and what exactly did you learn?

He handles the ball well, people love him and he understands the business. I took away his smile.

Explain to our readers the physicality of the NBA. Equate a season of basketball to something else.

The physicality, for me, is nothing. I bring the physicality. It reminds me of MMA [Mixed martial arts].

You’ve done MMA for 10 years, how did you get into that?

My guy, Vitor Belfort, introduced it to me, and I dug it.

What was the most important resolution you ever made?

All of them.

At the end of the day, basketball is nothing more than________.

A fun business—that I own.

If you could domesticate any wild animal, what would it be?

A white tiger, and I’d walk it around like a puppy.

What is the most “out there” thing you’ve ever eaten?
Bear bladder.

What did it taste like?


What past experience would you like to relive if you could?


What do you love to see the opposite sex wear?

Anything from Victoria’s Secret.

What bill do you most detest?

Cable bill.

What is the worst piece of advice you’ve been given?

Rick Barry once told me to shoot underhand.

Did you try it?


Who is the toughest competitor you’ve faced in the league so far?

Charles Oakley, Charles Barkley and Anthony Mason.

Who do you turn to for advice?

Me, myself and I.

Who is the funniest person on your team?

LeBron James.

2Pac or Biggie?


Eminem or 50 Cent?


Jay-Z or Nas?


When living in Germany as a boy, did you ever fill in as a goalkeeper?


Can you cook anything? If so, what’s your best dish?

No, I can’t cook anything.

What part of your game do you feel most people overlook?

My passing.

What is the best piece of advice you can give a college athlete?

Be a leader and not a follower.

Anderson Silva or Randy Couture, and why?

Randy Couture, because he’s an old legend like me.

What is your fondest LSU memory?

Pistol Pete Maravich came over to say hello to me while I was downstairs practicing.

You earned an MBA from University of Phoenix. How long did it take, and what was the most challenging aspect?

Three years. The most challenging aspect was going to class every Thursday with the other 12 businessmen.

Name your greatest achievement.

Winning four titles.

Got a pet peeve?


You get to choose the next law, what is it?

All hardcore criminals would have to go to Iraq and fight in the war.

What is the biggest mistake you ever made?

I haven’t made any.

Which designer owns the most real estate in your closet?

Just blue jeans.

What fires you up? Pisses you
off? Makes you cry?

Nothing makes me cry. Nothing fires me up because I control my temper. And you piss me off when you disrespect me.

Fondest memory growing up?

Getting an autographed Dr. J [Julius Erving] basketball.

What talent would you most like to have?

To play the piano.

How do you relax?

Lounging at the crib watching TV. I am what you call a “channel flicker.” I surf until I find something that tickles my fancy. I check it out for a while, and then move on.

You’re walking down death row. What was your last meal?

Number one: Big Mac.

It’s been said that you play at your best when you have something to prove. What do you have to prove now?


What were your first impressions of the city of Cleveland?

I love the city. The people are all very hospitable.

What was the deal with David Beckham denying your challenge to go against him on Shaq Vs.? Was he scared?

Yes, he was scared.

Is there anything you regret saying?

No, never.

You’ve played well over 1,000 professional basketball games. How do you still get pumped up on game day?

It is all about winning.

If you could be anything other than a basketball player, what would you be?

A sheriff. (Shaq is currently in the process of applying to be a deputy sheriff in Cleveland.)

What would your life be like if you were 5’10”?

The same as it is now.

What was the single most pivotal event of your life?

When I was a bully and I beat this guy up, and it wasn’t going too well. So from that day on, I became a nice person.

You mean he was fighting you back, or you were romping him real good?

I mean I was beating him up and he had an epilepsy attack. I was like, “Enough of this.”

You can have a drink with any person in history. With whom are you drinking, and what is your drink of choice?

I’m drinking with Redd Foxx, and I’m drinking water in a white zinfandel glass so that people will think I’m drinking white zinfandel.

Do you think there is any sort of social responsibility implicit in being a pro athlete?

Pro athletes should be themselves, real models.

What one thing would you like to forget in the course of your life?

Nothing. I love my life.

Root beer or cream soda?

Neither. Sprite.

What is the craziest story from you college years?

I saw someone who was eating marshmallows and taking shots. He ate about 50 marshmallows and took like 20 shots and threw up in the middle of the club—and then laid in it.

What tradition would you like to pass down to your children?

Being consistent.

What was your favorite toy to play with growing up?

I didn’t really get many toys when I was a kid.

What conversational topic do you avoid at all costs?


What do you wish you were in a better habit of doing?

Shooting better free throws.

What is the oldest piece of clothing you wear?

A fur.

What is your favorite word?


Got a favorite Dr. Seuss book?

Cat in the Hat.

If you had to name your child after one of the 50 states, which would it be?

New Jersey.

What part of the day do you enjoy most, and why?

The evening or night because I can shut it all down. But before I go to bed, I get to create what my next day will be like in my mind.

What do you wish other people were more mindful of?


Do you believe in aliens?