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You know him by any number of names, and chances are you know all about his legendary basketball career: Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal is a four-time NBA champion and a three-time NBA Finals MVP. After being an All-American at Louisiana State University, he was the overall number one draft pick in the NBA in 1992. In his 19-year career, Shaq racked up 28,596 career points (including 5,935 free throws!), 13,099 rebounds, 3,026 assists, 2,732 blocks, and 15 All-Star appearances.
These are statistics that are almost as massive as the man himself. His presence-both physically and psychologically-made him a dominant force in the game for two decades.
But if you follow the game, you also know that there’s a lot more to Shaquille O’Neal than just basketball.
Shaq is famous for his playful, and at times, provocative personality. He is, literally, outsize in both scale and persona. Whether rapping on any of his five albums, challenging celebrities on his hit television show “Shaq Vs.,” studying for his PhD or serving as a reserve police officer, there’s no question that Shaq has led a unique and multi-dimensional life. And in this rollicking new autobiography, Shaq discusses his remarkable journey, including his candid thoughts on teammates and coaches like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Phil Jackson, and Pat Riley.
From growing up in difficult circumstances and getting cut from his high school basketball team to his larger-than-life basketball career, Shaq lays it all out in Shaq Uncut: My Story.
Table of Contents
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When I was a little kid, I used to dribble my basketball around the Boys and Girls Club in Newark, New Jersey, dreaming about being Dr. J or Magic Johnson.
Then I went home and dreamed about being a famous DJ, spinning records and hanging out with the most successful rappers in the business.
At night, when I was watching television with my friends, I'd fantasize about being a movie star or a famous actor, the one who always landed the most beautiful girl to set up the perfect fairy-tale ending.
How many people can say almost all of their dreams came true? I'm pretty sure I'm one of the lucky few. I got to be an NBA superstar, a rapper with platinum and gold records, an actor who starred in movies, got to be on Saturday Night Live, and had my own reality show.
When most NBA players retire, the best part of their lives is over. I feel like mine is just beginning. Although I love the game of basketball, I've never wanted that to be the only thing that defines me.
I've always had dreams. Big dreams. Yet there were days I thought they would never come true. Days when I was teased because of my height, because I stuttered, because I was clumsy. Days when I hung out with the wrong crowd and made the wrong decisions. When I got cut as a freshman from my high school team, I lay in my room, devastated, wondering if I'd ever get another chance to prove myself.
My life hasn't been nearly as smooth as you might think. You see a seven-foot-one giant with an easy smile and figure, "He's got it made."
Well, sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn't. I had my own doubts, my own fears, my own disappointments. At times, the expectations of others nearly suffocated me. At times, the weight of my own expectations threatened to crush me.
For more than twenty-five years, people have been scrutinizing me. They have painted their own picture of who I am and what I stand for. Some of it has been positive, and some of it has been hurtful.
It's time for you to hear from me what makes Shaquille O'Neal tick. I'm ready to let you inside so you can understand where my journey has taken me and how it has shaped me as a man, not just as a basketball player.
Hopefully some of it will make you laugh. Some of it might even make you cry.
People always say I'm bigger than life.
Let me tell my own story this time, so you can decide for yourself.
JUNE 4, 2000
Los Angeles, California
Game 7, Western Conference Finals
The Portland Trail Blazers strode to their bench with a 71–58 lead over Los Angeles after three quarters of the winner-take-all Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals. The boasts of the Lakers, who vowed to steamroll the competition on their way to the NBA title, suddenly rang hollow.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson gathered his assistants on the court for a conference while Shaquille O'Neal and his teammates plopped onto the bench and waited.
Jackson prepared his team long ago for this moment. His instructions were succinct: "When all hell is breaking loose, go to your 'safe place,' a personal image or memory that will exude serenity, happiness, and peace of mind."
"Shaquille," Jackson asked shortly after he accepted the Lakers job. "Where is your safe place?"
"In my grandmother Odessa's lap, while she's sitting in her rocking chair," the big man answered.
"And how did that come to be your safe place?"
"She would find me after I messed up when I was a kid," Shaquille said. "After I did something really stupid and my father gave me a beating.
"When he was done hitting me, she'd sneak into my room and slip me a piece of pound cake and rock me and tell me, 'It's okay, baby. Everything is gonna be fine.' "
As Shaq fidgeted in frustration on the bench on the night of June 4, absorbing the catcalls and boos from LA's angry and shocked fans, his first thought was if the Lakers choked away this series, he knew who would get the blame.
It would be him, just as it had been in Orlando, when they failed to win it all.
Not again. O'Neal closed his eyes. He conjured up an image of Grandmother Odessa, just as Phil Jackson had instructed him to do. He focused on her soft voice, her gentle smile, her soothing words.
The Lakers broke from their huddle, but not before veteran Rick Fox challenged his teammates, "Is this how we're going out? Is this how it's gonna end?"
No, the big man told them. Not again.
Portland pushed the lead to 15 points with 10:28 left in the game. It was then that Shaquille O'Neal, double- and triple-teamed for most of the night, broke free and dunked on their heads. His basket ignited 15 consecutive Laker points, a stunning comeback punctuated by another O'Neal slam, this one expertly delivered by Kobe Bryant in the form of a slow-motion, looping lob.
Usually Shaq cooly turned after such demonstrations of dominance and jogged up the floor, expressionless, as if to say, Been here. Done this. Not this time. He exuberantly thrust his fingers aloft as he sprinted down the floor, his mouth agape and his wide eyes shining.
Grandmother Odessa was right. Everything was gonna be fine.
MY GRANDMOTHER CALLED ME SHAUN—NOT SHAQ, NOT Diesel, The Big Aristotle, Shaqtus, or The Big Shamrock. Back then, I was just a little boy running around the projects in Newark, New Jersey, who needed someone to look out for me.
I may have looked big, but I was just a kid. I was surrounded mostly by women, and if my grandmother or my aunt Viv or my mother saw the drug dealers slinking around our apartment they came out and told them to keep moving along. They warned them they better not mess with their Shaun. Once, when one of those shady guys started talking to me, my aunt Viv came flying out the door and started throwing punches.
"You leave him alone!!" she said, pounding her fists on the dude's back. "That boy is going to be a ballplayer!!!"
I was going to be someone special. That's what my mommy always told me.
I was going to be Superman.
My full name is Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal. My mom, Lucille O'Neal, was on her own when she had me. She was seventeen years old when she got pregnant. I never knew why my mother gave me a Muslim name. I guess it might have been because she felt like an outcast, or thought nobody loved her. Shaquille meant "little one" and Rashaun meant "warrior." I was her little warrior. It was going to be me and my mom against the world.
My grandmother Odessa Chambliss was a Christian woman, so she insisted on calling me Shaun. My grandma was the one who always told me, "Believe in yourself." Odessa always talked in a low voice, kind of like I do now, and she was always smiling.
Grandma Odessa looked like the perfect church woman. She wore a dress all the time. She never cursed, never raised her voice, always had a Bible nearby. I never really saw her hair because she wore these curly wigs all the time.
Grandma was a dreamer, and she let me know it was okay for me to dream, too. I always felt safe when I was with my grandmother. Of course, she used to sneak up on me and give me cod liver oil. I hated that stuff, but she swore by it. She was sure it would cure everything. I'd be filling up a big bowl of Trix cereal in the morning and just about to dig in when she'd slip that teaspoon of cod liver oil under my nose. A perfectly good breakfast ruined.
For the longest time I didn't understand why my last name was different from everyone else in the family. My mom and dad were Lucille and Philip Harrison, but I was O'Neal. So how does that work? Turns out that O'Neal was my mother's maiden name. When my mother married Philip, she took her husband's last name, but she kept me as O'Neal. I really didn't care too much, I guess, but one day in school one of my teachers asked me, "Shaquille O'Neal? How come your name is different from your daddy?" I went to my mom for some answers.
She decided I should go meet my biological father. His name was Joseph Toney. I think I was about seven years old. I remember he was tall, a nice-looking guy, but he didn't have a whole lot to say to me. They told me he had a scholarship lined up at Seton Hall to play basketball but he got into drugs and blew his chance.
The day I went to meet him he was nice enough. He said, "What's up? Hey kid, how are you doing? I'm your daddy." I wasn't really sure what to think. I had this other guy at home who sure acted like my daddy. Philip Harrison had given me a place to live, some toys, and even though I got in trouble a lot, I was cool with my life. When you are a kid, all you know is what you've got. After I met my "real" daddy, I went home with my mom to Philip, who as far as I was concerned was the only father I was going to pay any attention to.
The area of Newark that we lived in was poor, with mostly black people on every corner. It was dangerous, there was lots of crime, and it was the greatest place on earth if you were a drug dealer. Business was always booming for those cats.
I was born five years after the Newark riots, which was one of those memories that all the grown-ups talked about in real serious tones.
The riots apparently started after this guy named John Smith—like the English guy who loved Pocahontas, only this cat was a black taxi driver—passed two cops driving on Fifteenth Avenue. The two cops are white, and they arrest John Smith because he passed them on a double line, so they drag him down to the precinct, which is right across the street from the Hayes Home housing project. Everyone in the projects is watching the police beat this guy as they haul him in, and they're convinced those white cops are about to kill a black man for a traffic violation.
The place explodes.
For the next six days Newark is a war zone. There's rioting, shooting, and looting. People are throwing rocks through windows and tipping over cars. Too much poverty, anger, drugs, and inequality.
My parents were in the middle of it. They couldn't leave their house because it was too dangerous. They had relatives who were killed during the riots and some uncles and cousins who were arrested and thrown in jail for no good reason at all. But even so, they never talked about racism too much with me. I didn't grow up in a home where white people were the enemy. My parents didn't feel that way, and they didn't teach me to hate anyone, even after what they had seen with their own eyes.
Besides, do you think when I am eight years old that I care about the Newark riots? All I want to know is how do I get myself a skateboard.
I didn't know I was poor. I guess I should have. We moved all the time because we couldn't make the rent. My mom tried to feed a young family of six on Chicken a la King out of a can. We ate a lot of franks and beans and noodles. Lots of noodles. I was hungry all the time, but I figured that was just because I was so damn big. Every morning that I woke up it seemed like I had grown another couple of inches.
That was a problem for two reasons: shoes and clothes. I kept growing out of everything. I had to wear the same stuff to school over and over again because we couldn't afford to keep buying me new threads all the time. I heard about it. Kids would say, "Hey dawg, didn't you have that shirt on yesterday?"
Nobody was shocked that I turned out to be a big guy. My natural father was tall and my mom is six foot two. Lucille O'Neal is my best friend. My mom has always, always, been there for me. She learned to be tough at a very young age. Life wasn't always very kind to her, so she did her best to protect me from all the bad things that could happen to a wise-ass kid like me.
She knew how difficult it was to be taller than everyone else, because she had to deal with the same thing when she was growing up.
For example, my mom had to bring my birth certificate everywhere with her. They didn't believe I was only nine. The bus driver, the subway conductor, the guy behind the counter at McDonald's. Can't a kid get a Happy Meal without all this hassle?
I got teased a lot for my size starting when I was around five or six. I remember walking down the street one day and this kid called me Big Foot. I looked down and he was right: my sneakers were huge.
As I got older, the names got nastier: Sasquatch, Freak-quille. Shaquilla Gorilla. I didn't like that last one at all. I figured out I had a couple of choices. I could learn to be funny to get kids to be on my side… or I could just plain beat them up.
I did both.
When I started growing bigger I realized I had to master the little things. I had to be able to do all the things regular people did so they'd stop concentrating on my size. That's why I started break-dancing. I just loved to dance. I had good feet, so I could really move. We used to have contests and I became a really fabulous dancer. I could twirl around, spin on my head, all the stuff you see those little black kids do on television. I was so good all the kids forgot I was tall and goofy, and they started calling me Shaqa-D cuz I could move.
I was dancing all the time. Everyone loved it. I loved it. But one day when I was dancing I hurt my knee. It was really bothering me so I went to the doctor, and he told me I had Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is something kids get when they start growing way too fast for their bodies.
When I got home, I told my father I had Osgood-Schlatter disease. He punched me and said, "You ain't got Osgood nothing! You're out there break-dancing and that's why you're wrecking your knees!" So I got a good ass whupping for that.
The truth is, my dad spent a lot of time beating me. If I did something wrong, he'd smack me and say, "Be a leader, not a follower." 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. Without my father staying on me, I never would have become Shaq or The Diesel or any of those other crazy names I've invented for myself.
Philip Harrison was a military man all the way. His friends called him Butchy, but all my friends called him Sarge. He was very, very big on discipline. Things had to be done his way, or else.
Ironically, that kind of tough-love approach hurt him in his military career. At one time he was a drill sergeant, but he spent so much time challenging people and cussing them out he was demoted. They put him in charge of running the gym on the base, but his temper got him into trouble there, too. They got tired of him cursing at people, so they made him a supply sergeant.
Nobody messed with Sarge, especially me. His family was Jamaican and when he did something wrong as a kid, he got a beating. He just did what he was taught.
And it's true—I did a lot of stupid stuff when I was a kid because I wanted to be cool. I'd carry chains in my book bag. I'd go to the store and steal stuff. I'd break into cars, just because I could. I'd break into people's houses and take little things, nothing big, then brag about it after I was sure I wouldn't get caught.
That kind of stuff drove my dad crazy. He wanted me to make something out of myself. He made mistakes when he was a kid and his father beat him within an inch of his life. So that was what he was going to do with me. He'd get me with his fists, his belt, a broom, whatever was around. It was his version of corporal punishment. Whenever I did something stupid he'd beat me so hard I'd have to think twice about doing it again.
Sometimes fear really is the best weapon.
Because my dad was in the military we moved a lot, so every time I went to a new school I would find out who the toughest guy was and I'd measure him up. I'd test him out first by being funny, then I'd beat him up. That way I'd be the New Guy in the school, instead of being the "new guy" in the school. Big difference.
When I was really small we lived on Oak Street in Jersey City. We were living with my grandmother Odessa, and she lived across the street from a park. She was a nurse and my mother was right there, with the TV in the window, so they were watching me all the time. It was safer in Jersey City than in Newark; there were only a few juvenile delinquents in the neighborhood instead of one on every corner.
There was this guy Pee Wee who lived right near the park, and I was scared of him because he had this big dog, a German shepherd named Sam. Every day like clockwork around 4:15 p.m., we'd be in the park and Sam would come charging out of the house and chase all the kids. Pee Wee and his brothers were drug dealers. I hated that dog. I was scared to death of it.
Now, my father came home from work one night and he brought me a present. They were Chuck Taylor sneakers, brand-new, the original white canvas ones. I couldn't believe it. I never had shoes like that. I knew we couldn't really afford them. So my dad tells me, "Hey, you've got to wear these shoes to school, to play ball. You've got to wear them in the summer. They've got to last. Don't mess them up, you hear me?"
I go outside in my new Chuck Taylors and I'm strutting around and I'm feeling good. I am The Man. But at 4:15 the screen door opens and that damn dog Sam starts coming right for me. I start running and I try to jump the fence, but I'm so big I'm having trouble scrambling up there. My feet are dangling and I'm trying to hoist myself over, but the dog gets the back of my shoe and rips it. So I go home and tell my dad and he says, "I don't want to hear that crap!" and he punches me.
The next day I get myself a stick, and when Pee Wee's dog comes out I try to break his neck. I'm so mad about the Chuck Taylors I'm trying to kill that dog Sam. The dog runs back in the house and Pee Wee comes out acting real tough and I hit him with the stick, too. Next thing you know his three brothers come out and they beat the stuffing out of me. I am so messed up my father doesn't even bother to whip me again.
I was on punishment a lot. I used to be sent to my room, and to keep myself from going crazy I'd close my eyes and create all these dreams. In one dream I was the Incredible Hulk, so I'd close my eyes and start growling, "Aaaaaahhhhh." In my next dream I was Superman, so I'd close my eyes and flex my muscles and then I was flying. Next time, I was a hero in Star Wars.
Once in a while, I'd close my eyes and I'd dream I was one of those drug dealers on the corner. They always had money. The wads of bills would be sticking out of their pockets so we could see how well they were doing. I'd think about what it would be like to be them for a second, but I was always on punishment so I couldn't even get out of the house to do something stupid like that. See, Pops? Your "tough love" worked.
Grandmother Odessa hated it when I was on punishment. Funny thing was, I was on punishment in her house, because we couldn't afford our own place. After I screwed up and my dad beat me, she'd wait until he left and that's when she'd sneak in with a glass of milk and a slice of Entenmann's pound cake and tell me in that low voice, "Here, have this. Stop crying now. It's going to be all right. You're my baby. Don't worry."
I used to tell my grandma, "When I get rich, I'm going to buy you a house." She'd smile and tell me, "Baby, I don't need a new house. This one is just fine."
We lived with my grandmother for a while, but she and my father didn't really get along that well so we ended up moving to Newark, on Vassar Avenue. My grandfather, my dad's father, was this hard-core Jamaican man, and we moved in with him. We also lived with my dad's brother and some of my aunts and a ton of cousins. The house was full. It was a pretty big house, nine or ten rooms, but there weren't enough beds to go around. I slept on the floor with a bunch of my cousins.
My grandpa had dreams of being rich, so every day he'd give me and my cousin Andre a dollar to go buy the Quick Pick lottery ticket and another dollar to buy bread. My cousin and I were entrepreneurs. We'd buy the Quick Pick, but then we'd buy the cheap, stale bread that cost sixty cents and use the other forty cents to buy gum. We did that a few times before someone in the house said, "How come this bread never tastes fresh?" We got found out and got a whupping from my crazy grandpa.
By that point we were used to having our gum. We had to have it. So we stole it. We'd develop all sorts of elaborate plans to distract the guy at the cash register so we wouldn't get caught. One day, Andre and I were chewing our gum and my grandfather said to me, "Where did you get that gum?" I didn't want to tell him I stole it, so I told him a nice lady gave it to me. My grandfather said, "How many times do we have to tell you not to talk to strangers?" So Andre and I got a whupping for that, too.
When I was about eight I started going to the Boys and Girls Club and we played basketball for hours and hours. On the weekends my dad started teaching me the fundamentals. Philip Harrison was a very good city ballplayer, or so all the people in Newark tell me. They say Sarge and my natural father were the two best in the area growing up. My uncle, Mike Parris, once told me Philip Harrison was a cross between Robert Parish and George Gervin.
Philip taught me how to box out and shoot with my elbow tucked in the right way. One of the first books he ever gave me was a story of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's life. I read the whole thing, and one part of the book was about how Kareem lost all his money investing in soybeans. I told myself, "When I get rich, that's not happening to me."
Looking back, at that age I wasn't very good at basketball. I was clumsy. I hadn't really grown into my body yet, so I fumbled around with the ball at first. Of course everyone expected me to be excellent because I was so big. Good luck explaining to people it doesn't work that way.
Newark was a tough city. You didn't have to look for trouble; it found you the second you got up out of bed in the morning. I think my parents knew we needed to get out of there. The problem was we didn't have any money. My dad was working so hard, but it was never enough to feed and clothe us and pay the rent. He used to drive U-Haul trucks to and from New Jersey and New York for extra cash, and he was just tired all the time.
Then, in 1982, when I was ten years old, my dad came home one day and said, "We're moving." He packed me, my mother, my sisters, Ayesha and Lateefah, and my little brother, Jamal, into his Toyota Corolla, and we drove to Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia. I cried all the way there. I didn't want to go. I didn't want to leave my friends.
And yet, that move was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I was in trouble all the time in Newark. I was hanging out with the wrong kids.
If it wasn't for us moving around so much, then I wouldn't be the people person I am today. I really believe that. I had to learn how to make new friends, adjust to new places. What if I had to grow up my whole life in the projects of Newark, New Jersey? I would have never seen any white people, Jewish people, Spanish people. Because my dad moved so much, it forced me to learn to live with all kinds of kids.
Hinesville, Georgia, was nothing like Newark. We're living on the army base there and it was very, very Southern. We walked to school from the base, and one day I met this kid named Ronnie Philpot. He's a little guy, and he's very dark skinned, darker than me, so we start ranking on each other about how black we are. He's my first friend in Georgia and I'm going to be his bodyguard. His mother had died and kids started messing with him. They'd say stuff like, "Hey Ronnie, the parent-teacher conference is tonight, too bad your mom can't be there."
I heard that and I was going off the wall. It was just so cruel. This kid is teasing Ronnie about his mom and I shove him and say, "After school. The basketball courts. You and me. I'm going to mess you up." The kid knows he's got to show up because news of the fight is all over the school. Plus, I knew where he lived. He had to go home past the courts unless he went the long way around. So I'm waiting, and he shows up, and the first thing I do is smack him in the head.
My mentality was always to strike first. So I punch the kid in the face and then it's on, and I just start beating him. He can't do anything. All the kids are there watching, so now I'm The Man. I'm the bully in the school and everyone knows it.
My father isn't happy with me because I'm goofing around in class and I'm still getting in trouble all the time. He's taking his belt to me just about every day because I keep screwing up. Finally he says, "If I get one more note from school, I'm going to mess you up." I knew he was serious.
But I can't help it. I'm Shaquille, the funny guy, the bully, The Man. I was so self-conscious about my size, goofing off was the only way I knew how to fit in. So one day I bring my water bottle to school and I've got these tissues my mom put in my backpack, and I start making spitballs and throwing them at the blackboard. I get one big old glob and I fire it and it just misses the teacher. So the teacher whips around and says, "Who did that?" Everyone is cracking up except for me. I'm sitting there real serious.
So class is over and this kid rats me out. He's an officer's kid. I can't believe it. I'm shocked. So I go to the principal's office and I get suspended for three days. I know my father is going to beat the tar out of me so I grab this kid and I tell him, "Three o'clock." I figure I'm going to go home and get an ass whupping anyway, but first I'm gonna give one of my own. I'm gonna kill that kid.
School is over and I'm waiting for him. Three o'clock, four o'clock, and he doesn't come, but I'm still waiting for him on the corner. By then the other kids have given up and gone home. Finally the kid comes out of the school around five o'clock. He's looking around all nervous and then he sees me. I start chasing him. He doesn't realize that I'm pretty quick for a big kid. I track him down and I start punching him and hitting him. I'm kicking him in the ribs so hard he starts having some kind of seizure.
All of a sudden I'm real scared. This kid is foaming at the mouth and his eyes are rolling back in his head and I'm thinking, Oh no, I really have killed him. I'm terrified.
One of the officers from the base is driving by and he sees the kid lying on the ground, so he stops the car and runs over and says, "What the hell are you doing?" He runs back to the car and puts a pencil in the kid's mouth because the kid's having this epileptic seizure. The man calls 911. So the cops come and the ambulance comes and now I'm really in trouble. The cops drive me back to the base, and they find my father and they blast him for having such a rotten kid. They come down on my dad pretty hard. I've embarrassed my father and I've pissed him off. I'm thinking, This isn't good.
- On Sale
- Nov 15, 2011
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Grand Central Publishing