NBA Legend Shaquille O’Neal has to be one of the best big men to have played in the league. From his rookie season to the end of his career Shaq was always playing the game with heart and passion. He would always find a way to win and keep the crowd wanting more. From winning NBA titles to smashing down the hoop during games O’Neal will always be a fan favorite.
Shaq also has been doing great charitable work for a few years now with Toys R Us for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. The Toys for Tots campaign is currently underway and O’Neal, who is better known as “Shaq-A-Claus” during the holiday season.
Shaq and I were able to talk about his charitable work, his career in the NBA, fatherhood, and dancing.
Art Eddy: Do you have one moment or season in your great career that stands out the most? Or do all of the seasons in your outstanding career mesh together for you?
Shaquille O’Neal: Everything is kind of pushed together. I am happy for the four titles. The only thing that is disappointing is that I missed over 200 games due to injury. I averaged about 25 points a game. That is about another 5,000 points that could have been added to my career. Then that would have put me at number two in scoring. Then of course I missed 10,000 free throws. If I made half those that would have brought up closer to Kareem.
There is always the talk about who is the best big man. Who is the most dominant? I think accolades and stats will never lie. I really wanted to pass Wilt Chamberlain in points so I could woefully and modestly brag to say I was the most dominant big man ever. I think I am 1,800 behind Wilt.
AE: One thing that I loved about watching you play was that you looked like you were having fun. You still were focused and I know that the NBA is a player’s livelihood, but do you feel that some players might take the game too seriously?
SO: I don’t want to speak for other players, but economically you have to understand that dads and moms pay a lot of money for these seats. I was like okay if you are going to pay this much money to watch me play I am going to put on a Broadway type of performance for you. That is why I did what I did. I wanted to play hard. I wanted to smile at little kids and throw them wristbands.
If you can just make one person happy or change their life or make the whole arena happy than I think that you are doing your job. We make a lot of money and they charge a lot of money. My job was to always put on a good show. If a dad is going to pay $200 to have him and son watch Shaq, Kobe, and the Lakers play up against the Miami Heat, I have to give them a good show.
You never want to have someone say ‘Oh my God. Why did I pay for these tickets? This game was awful.’ So my job was to put on a great show for them.
AE: Was your first NBA title the sweetest?
SO: Yes. The first one was the sweetest. I had accomplished a lot before I got there. There were critics out there that would say he is not concentrating. He is doing this. He is doing that. He will never win a championship. Then to have the rite of passage to being considered one of the greatest is nice to have on your resume.
AE: Moving to fatherhood what are some morals or values that you try to instill in your children?
SO: I want to teach them to have fun and to follow their dreams. Of course their upbringing is a lot smoother than mine. I always tell them that whatever they want to be they can be. You are always going to have trials and tribulations.
One of my daughters wants to be a singer. I tell her to go do it. If she likes to sing, then go and sing. If she doesn’t well do something else. It is just like me. When I wanted to start up a certain business I would go out and do it. If it didn’t work I would go do something else. I try and lead by example.
Anytime my kids want something new I say okay go into your closet and fill up a box of toys. Then we will go down to the Salvation Army. One of my daughters cried because this past Thanksgiving she accidentally put in a Barbie that had just one arm and two legs. We were in Phoenix and this little girl picked out that Barbie.
My daughter started crying. I said it was okay. Some people don’t have anything. We were there in Phoenix for Thanksgiving to feed those in need. We were donating some old toys and bikes. You should have seen how the kids that were living in the homeless shelter and how they reacted. It brought a tear to my baby daughter’s eyes. She asked me if she was in trouble for putting that Barbie in there. I said no. That little girl loves that Barbie. It might have had only one arm, but she told her mommy that she got a Barbie. It almost brought a tear to my eye too. I knew that this girl really wanted a Barbie and she didn’t care that it had just one arm.
SO: The perfect vacation is whatever they want to do. They like activities. They like going over to the Bahamas or the Atlantis. They like riding the inner tube. They like anything that is fun. As a parent when I take them on vacation it is really more about them than it is me.
I don’t really do vacations because I work a lot. Yet when they tell me where they want to go I tell them to write a report on why we would go there. It actually makes it like homework. They then learn how to do research. Then they come back and say look this place has this and this.
AE: What are some of the major differences from when you were growing up to now for your kids?
SO: Well I see now that for children there are more dangers and more drugs. When I came up the gang talk was rare. You may have had a couple of guys that wore a couple of jackets and talk like they were real bad. Now it is very serious.
When I was growing up marijuana was the big thing. There is still marijuana, but now there is mollies. There are just more trials and tribulations now. I try my best to teach my kids to be leaders not followers. I tell them don’t just do something because someone else is doing something. You got to know and understand what you are doing. You have to understand what will happen if you do something.
AE: I think that is a great take on the change for the different generations. Well said! I would love to finish our chat with a quick round of about four questions. Is that cool with you?
AE: What is your favorite shoe from your line?
SO: The Shaq Ones.
AE: What is your favorite nickname that you had during your playing days?
SO: My favorite nickname is “Diesel.” I am like an 18 wheeler with no brakes coming down the hill onto oncoming traffic.
AE: Where was your favorite place to play in the NBA?
AE: I loved your dance routine with Jabbawockeez during the NBA All-Star Game. How long did you prep for that?
SO: I didn’t prep for that. It took me two minutes because when I was young I was already a break dancer.
AE: First off let’s talk about the great work you do with Toys R Us for the Toys for Tots program. You have done this for some time now. What inspired you to help out with this program?
SO: Well it is a great program that has been going on for a numerous amount of years. In 1992 my mother called me. She wanted to buy some kid toys. She was at a center that had about 500 children. I asked her what she was doing. She told me that these kids won’t be getting anything for Christmas because of their family situations.
I told her to have the kids write down about 10 items of what they want. She faxed me the list a couple hours later. Me and a couple of friends of mine went to Toys R Us and racked up a bunch of toys. That is how “Shaq-A-Claus” started.
I was contacted by Toys R Us about five years ago because they wanted to do that on a bigger scale. “Shaq-A-Claus” goes on in five states. It goes on in New Jersey and New York. We did it in Atlanta. We did it in Orlando. We are going to finish it off in L.A.
Toys R Us has always been my favorite store. My favorite song has always been (starts to sing) I don’t want to grow up. I am a Toys R Us kid. I love Geoffrey the Giraffe. Toys R Us is a great organization. They do great things. They showed me some alarming stats. I think 10 to 20 million kids will wake up on Christmas and not receive anything. With the help of Toys for Tots, people giving monetary donations and giving toy donations I think we can cut down that number.
AE: How can people help you guys out with this great cause?
SO: You can go to Toys R Us dot com slash Toys for Tots. You can donate at your local Toys R Us or Babies R Us. You will see a big ol’ box there. You can donate money, gift cards, and toys and we will get them out.
AE: Talk about the “No Wish Is Too Big” campaign for this year.
SO: Whatever you want just holler at Shaq and Toys R Us and we will try and make it happen. This year a lot of kids want XBOX’s and all those things. I am putting out a call to all my friends and family. Bikes, iPods, iPads, Monster headphones, Shaq shoes and other stuff to try and do our best to make these kids happy.
I was one of those kids that didn’t get a lot for Christmas. There was one toy that changed my life. It created the Shaquille O’Neal brand. It was a Dr. J. autographed basketball.
AE: I remember you saying that before in an interview. It is great to have that story about a toy that stands the test of time for you. To me that is exactly what you are doing with Toys R Us for this program. These toys will create a memory for them just like the Dr. J. basketball did for you. You guys are doing such a wonderful campaign.
SO: Thank you. Imagine seeing a kid wake up on Christmas and opening up gifts and saying thank you to their mom and their dad. Christmas should be joyous time for everyone.