The ABCs, from Shaq’s Perspective

The hour that Shaquille O’Neal spent on the stage in the Thomas Murphy Ballroom at MODEX 2022 didn’t seem near long enough. It was a conversation that could have gone on for hours―and you would still want to hear more. His stories were inspirational on a deep level, funnier than what you would expect from someone with a doctorate in education, touching and insightful.  He even belted out some song lyrics, which was probably one of the last things attendees expected to hear during his keynote. But, the overarching current behind many of the questions posed to him by moderator Mitch MacDonald had to do with family, his strong ties with them and their influence on the person he is today.  

It started when Shaq realized he had the opportunity to “change our [family's] lives forever” because of his skills in basketball and his size. At just 10 years old, he was 6’4”. But it wasn’t an easy path, as “I was always getting into trouble,” explained Shaq. However, his father was a drill sergeant and “he taught me never to make the same mistake twice in a row… And he had a twin brother named Belt and older brother named Fist.”

The lessons he learned from his parents were not always typical, but they were memorable, such as the time his father had him talk to a homeless man to illustrate a point about pressure: “Pressure is when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from,” Shaq recalled. Also, when you grow up with a drill sergeant you aren’t allowed to quit, he said.

However, “when you are a juvenile delinquent, it only takes one mistake, and I was close,” said Shaq. “You are either going to make a lot of money or get in a lot of trouble,” he used to hear.

His mom was a big part of guiding Shaq, as well. The “best feeling in the world” was when he was able to give back to the mother who could never afford her own stereo much less her own house. “I made her think the house was for me, then I handed her the keys,” he said. “I am proud when my mother says, ‘I’m proud of you,’” said Shaq. “I never did it for me, I did it for her and my kids (he has six!).” She taught him to treat everyone the same, no matter how much you make. Now, he tries to lead by example, take one day at a time and give. Every charitable thing he’s done, he credits to her lessons.

And he carries those lessons into his business world as well, where he invests in things that are going to change people’s lives. He wants to make a difference for the children out there, especially in the town where he has lived, with the hope that they will able to live their dreams, perhaps, as he has?

He says the single thing he is most proud of is that he was able to continue and live the dreams he had as a youngster, including his career ABCs of becoming “a basketball” player, to “basketball” player to “cop” to “deputy” to “entrepreneur.” Will “firefighter” be next? With Shaq―NBA superstar, sheriff, Academy Award winner, entrepreneur, doctorate holder―who knows? “My father always told me to be a leader not a follower,” said Shaq.