Google “Shaquille O’Neal” and “Big Aristotle” and you’ll get something like 19,000 results.
But, the original Greek thinker himself, some 2,335 years after his death, clocks in at more than 12 million references. That says something about his impact relative to Hall of Fame-bound NBA big man, current TNT analyst and all-around raconteur.
Most folks paying attention this century, if not those over most of the 23 before it, are familiar with O’Neal’s way with a quip. He is, after all, self-described as a “very quotatious person,” to the point that there is a Web site devoted to his comments and more than a few video compilations of his most playful, clever or cutting remarks.
Not everyone, though, tracks Shaq’s pronouncements closely. Which explains how Reader’s Digest — that venerable, global publication of 10 million-plus subscribers devoted to samplings of other magazines and assorted anecdotes and bite-sized features — got the “Big” and the regular-sized Aristotles a little mixed up recently.
In its June issue, a quote attributed to O’Neal (“Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do”) ran next to a slick illustration of the big fella. It’s been out there, associated with O’Neal, for more than a dozen years. In fact, it was the source of the “Big Aristotle” moniker in the first place. “[That] was coined the day I won the MVP [in 2000],” O’Neal long ago explained. “I stole a quote from that Greek philosopher cat.”
The editors at the Digest never got the memo. But some readers did notice. Eventually, so did media watchdog Jim Romenesko, the proprietor of his eponymous and much-visited Web site. By that time at least, Reader’s Digest had come clean after learning of the confusion.
As it turns out, the monthly mag isn’t alone in crediting the wrong philosopher for the quote. There have been and still are others, such as here and here. Fortunately, this appears to be a one-way mistake, and we won’t be seeing any O’Neal cracks about, say, Kobe Bryant being mistakenly attributed to Descartes or Nietzsche.