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A Spire of Lifestyle Aspiration
Shaquille O'Neal

December, 2001

Shaquille O’Neal

Now 29 years old, Shaquille O'Neal has topped out at seven-foot-one, weighs 315 pounds, and each morning pulls on size 21 EEE shoes.

Shaquille O'NealGone were the days of dressing up as “Shaquanda,” a female alter ego that comedically disguised the insecurities that loomed large within the boy. Almost two decades later, that same defensive sense of humor perhaps explains his once telling tales on a radio show about his sexual sprees with lovely luminaries Venus Williams and Cindy Crawford. (He later admitted he was joking.)

• Shaq’s biological father, a one-time Seton Hall basketball player who later ended up in jail, has played no role in O’Neal’s life, His step-father, Phil Harrison, who was the first man to discipline him and who introduced him to sports – including basketball when O’Neal was seven – is the only father he has ever known.

• Born March 6, 1972, in Newark, New Jersey, Shaquille Rashaun (Arabic for “little warrior”) bounced in to life weighing a modest seven pounds, 11 ounces, Two years later, his stepfather joined the Army. The next 12 years saw O’Neal, his parents, and his three younger half-siblings living all over New Jersey, at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and finally in West Ger­many. There, in 1985, Louisiana State University basketball coach Dale Brown spotted the 13-year-­old O’Neal, who by then was six-­foot-six, and asked, “Where are you from, soldier?” Brown never forgot O’Neal; nor did O’Neal forget Brown. He enrolled at LSU in 1988.

• His three remarkable years there culminated in his turning pro in 1992 and join­ing the Orlando Magic. He scored 12 points against Miami in his first game, rebounded 18 times, and blocked three shots. That same season he started in the NBA All-Star Game­ the first rookie to do so since Michael Jordan eight years earlier.

• In a historic act of free agency, in 1996 O’Neal swapped coastlines and signed a lucrative seven-year con­tract with the Los Angeles Lakers. (In October of last year he negotiated a three-year $88.5 million contract extension,) The rest is legend.

• O’Neal is only the third player in NBA history to capture the titles All-Star MVP, regular-season MVP, and NBA Finals MVP in the same season (1999-2000). Not to be outdone by himself, that same year, under the disciplined leadership of coach Phil Jackson (whom O’Neal has de­scribed as “a white version of my father”), he led the Lakers to their first championship in 12 years-then turned around and did it again the next season.

His struggle to improve his free-throw percentage is leg­endary as well, providing his detractors fuel for their fire: His best in the NBA, 59 percent, was his first year, while last sea­son’s 51 percent was not far away from his worst (48 percent).

In addition to conquering the NBA, O’Neal has two books and several film roles to his name, and his own sportswear company, TWlsM (The World Is Mine), Inc. His charitable contributions to organizations benefiting underprivileged and disadvan­taged youths and the homeless number in the millions of dollars. Yearly appearances as “Shaq-a-Claus” at Christmas and the “Shaq-a-Bunny” at Easter have replaced his Halloween role as Shaquanda.

He spent much of this past summer pro­moting his new rap album, Shaquille O’Neal Presents His Superfriends, Vol. 1. His last four albums have either gone gold or platinum or boasted singles in the upper echelon of the pop and R & B charts, and his fine new effort recruits the able as­sistance of Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stock­man, Ludacris, Black Thought of the Roots, Snoop Dogg, Angie Stone, 311, and Dr. Dre, to name just a few. “I consider myself Superman,” he told us (a fact reinforced by the tattoo on his left arm), and these are his Superfriends.

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He certainly has the Midas touch. Focusing on his strengths while working on his weaknesses keeps him balanced and on top of any game he plays - and he plays more than most.

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