HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Appreciation for days like this one, Veterans Day, were forged years ago in Shaquille O’Neal, the son of a father who served in the military.
Preparation for the days like this one and the many ahead has been a part of O’Neal’s thought process for years, long before he began his 19-year journey in the NBA.
Unlike countless others before him, O’Neal didn’t wrestle with the idea of what he’d do when his playing days ended. He’s already kicked off his career as a TNT analyst (check him out talking lockout with several of his new colleagues). His biography, “Shaq Uncut: My Story,” with Jackie MacMullan, hits the shelves Nov. 15 and will include an extensive book tour where fans will no doubt want to hear more about some of his legendary battles, on and off the court, with some of basketball’s biggest names.
“Going into the next phase of my life never worried me,” O’Neal said. “Growing up and watching everybody else’s successes and failures, I’ve prepared for this. I even talk about it in my book. My father came home one day and hit me in the back of the head with a book. He said, ‘read this.’ And it was Kareem‘s book on how he lost all his money. And my father told me, ‘it’s never going to happen to you.’ It’s all about having a plan. And that’s how I got here.”
That doesn’t mean he spared anyone or anything in his book. With an extensive history playing with and against some of the biggest names in the game — including the league’s three biggest current stars, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — there will be plenty for fans to chew on once they get their hands on more than just the excerpts that have already circulated.
“The worst thing about the world we live in now, is there is more than one outlet that people respect. Back when we were coming up if it didn’t come from ESPN, NBC, CBS or ABC it didn’t have that stamp. But now, people are just taking excerpts and putting them out like they have the whole story,” O’Neal said of early criticisms, particularly his relationship with Bryant. “In the long run, it’s only going to help me have a No. 1 bestseller. Look, a lot of this stuff is just me reflecting on what’s already been out there and what’s been said. But a lot of guys that don’t have any creativity, guys like Bill Plaschke (of The Los Angeles Times) and Ric Bucher (of ESPN The Magazine), they don’t have any creativity to come up with their own stories. So to keep people paying attention and respect what they do, they keep bringing up old (expletive).
“As educated as I am, when I say stuff and do stuff, I know what I’m doing. Off the court if I see the man with his wife and lovely kids, I’m uncle Shaq and it’s hey kids. We had our problems but if you look at the world, the Beatles had problems. The Jackson 5 had problems. That’s just life. You grow up and move on.
“I’m just reflecting. I tell some stories. Tell about how I came to be who I am, which is all a creation of my mother. I talk about why I’m so hard, because my father always stayed on me, and what drives me and makes me mad and why I’m so sensitive. I call it ‘Shaq Uncut’ because I’m not holding back. It’ll probably be my last book. I hope people enjoy it because these things can be revealing. I know the Jerry West book has to be a good one. I never knew he dealt with depression until his book came out. Again, you grow up and move on.”
Moving on for O’Neal will include sharing a seat at the table on TNT’s Inside the NBA set with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson in his first year of retirement. He insist he has always been uniquely qualified for this specific job. He said he’s been training for this since he can remember, referring back to his master plan hatched all those years ago before the world knew his name.
“It’s weird and it’s lucky and it’s also a blessing to be in this position,” he said. “That’s why I never take anything for granted and try and stay humble. People always talk about my free throws. Just think if I shot it like Steve Kerr, nobody would have been able to tell me nothing. I wouldn’t have even gone to practice. Life has a way of keeping you humble like that.
“My mother used to always tell me that the people you pass on the way up will be the same people you see on the way down, and they’ll be laughing at you if you’ve made a fool of yourself. I’m an educated man and I’ve always tried to do things a certain way, the right way. I can call anybody right now. I can call President [Barack] Obama if I want to. And that’s because what I’ve done has been well-respected. And that’s the result of my mother and father raising me the right way.”
O’Neal’s early years play a central role in the book, as much as his clashes with Bryant, Pat Riley and all of his on-court rivals. MacMullan admitted to being taken aback by some of the things she discovered about the way O’Neal was raised, going so far as to suggest that he was physically abused by his father, “Sarge” Phillip Harrison. O’Neal praises Harrison profusely, by the way, for helping mold him into the man he is today.
“Jackie knew stories that I had totally forgotten. She did a great job interviewing people and doing her research,” O’Neal said. “A lot of this stuff, the fights, the arguments and whatever, I didn’t even think about until we went through this process. But for people who think this is about taking shots or settling scores, I don’t need to do it. And for those that don’t like it, well I am not hard to find.”
O’Neal cited specific examples including Bryant and another young star that he is often linked to, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.
“I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful. But you can’t be Shaq when Shaq is still here,” he said. “I’m not saying that in a bad way. But Superman is right here. And he’s done a lot. So do some other [expletive]. But I hate it when these bloggers and Websites try and take everything that’s said and make it a fight. It’s not like that. In this world we all have our opinions. But we don’t always have to agree.”
O’Neal points to his own journey as the perfect example that perspective is always needed when viewing someone’s history. He admitted that the next generation of players set to take the mantle from his generation worry him sometimes.
“You look at some of the stuff the young guys do and you shake your head. It’s crazy the stuff some of these guys do,” he said. “But I’m sure [Michael Jordan], Magic [Johnson] and those guys were looking at me the same way with the rap albums, the movies and all the other stuff I was doing when I was a kid. It’s just the way it is. I just want these current guys to protect the brand a little more. I think as long as we have D-Wade, Kobe, LeBron and now [Kevin] Durant is stepping up to his own, you have those three or four superstars and then a lot of other star players out there to continue building the legacy of this league and keep people’s attention, we’ll be fine.”