Shaquille O’Neal, who’s launching a collection of tailored clothing made by Peerless for Macy’s, is as much a class act as a slam dunk.
He might be seven foot one and a basketball icon, but Shaquille O’Neal the man is as much gentleman and philosopher as he is superstar. The facts are out there: Born in Newark, NJ in 1972, Shaq graduated from LSU with a degree in general studies and political science; he later earned an MBA, fulfilling a promise to his mom. He’s considered one of the most dominant players in NBA history, and one of few to reach the finals with three different teams. He’s a respected sportscaster who’s also written books, produced albums, starred in movies, and devoted much of his life to charitable causes and public service, even working as a reserve police officer in LA, Miami and Phoenix. He’s got more than eight million Twitter followers. His product endorsements are genuine—he won’t endorse a brand he doesn’t believe in, or one he can’t have fun with.
But while fun is important to him (he’s famous for his radiant smile and comical remarks at press conferences), it’s his intelligence, generosity and class that impress even more. At a recent photo shoot for Macy’s (as they prepare to launch a collection of Shaquille O’Neal tailored clothing, produced by Peerless), Shaq proved to be an exceptional model, all poise and charm through several long hours of photography and many dozens of wardrobe changes. Still, he made time between shots to pose for photos with every female in the room, calling each up individually and making each lucky lady feel extra special. Now that’s a gracious gesture beyond the call of duty, a sign of a truly classy guy!
But more than just a great model (and unlike the typical celebrity with a clothing line who simply licenses his name to a manufacturer), Shaq was very much involved with the design process, working closely with the team at Peerless to choose just the right fabrics, colors and models. According to Ron Wurtzburger, Shaq insisted the line be affordable, fashion forward and classy. He chose fine fabrics, sophisticated neutrals, and modern classic styles that work for both business and casual. His sales pitch, “If it looks good on me, it will look great on a 40 regular,” positions the collection (which will be sold exclusively at Macy’s and Macys.com, launching mid February at the NBA All-Star Game) for both regular and B&T sizes. What’s more, Shaq will be wearing the clothing on NBA broadcasts on TNT, on morning and late-night talk shows, and on upcoming TV commercials. Here, we catch up with Shaq to talk about basketball, fashion and life.
You look fabulous in those exclusive Macy’s suit separates. Are you happy with how the collection turned out?
Very; they look awesome! It took me a while to enjoy wearing suits: I rarely dressed up when I was younger, but these days, I’m appreciating the way a great suit makes you feel. As a professional, it’s important for me to set a good example, so I always wear a suit to business meetings. And coming from a military background (Editors note: Shaq’s stepfather Phillip Harrison served as a drill sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and Shaq spent some time living with his family in West Germany) and seeing all my business idols wear suits, I know it’s the right thing to do.
Who are your business idols?
Roger Enrico, former CEO of Pepsi. Mike Mastrov, former CEO of 24 Hour Fitness. Donald Trump, Bill Gates, guys like that.
Your non-business idols?
My mother, Lucille O’Neal. My dad, Phillip Harrison (who sadly just passed away). Jerome Crawford and Mike Paris, my uncles. Perry Rogers and all the people who look out for me and make the Shaq team go.
Who is your fashion role model?
President Obama. Every time you see him on TV, he looks elegant and classic, which is my kind of style. I prefer neutral colors like black and brown. I like pinstripes and bright ties. Every now and then I’ll mix and match tops and bottoms as long as the colors go together. But it’s got to look elegant and classic.
You’re obviously in great shape. What’s your diet/exercise routine?
My personal chef, Alex Konat, prepares my meals, mostly chicken and fish, but on “cheat days,” I can eat any kind of sandwich I want. I probably consume between 3,000 and 5,000 calories per day; when I was playing it was more like 10,000. As for exercise, I’m not a fanatic: I do cardio every now and then.
What’s your favorite food?
Lucille’s famous fried chicken! My mother taught Alex how to make her fried chicken about 15 years ago. And he’s pretty good: Lucille’s rates 100 and Alex is a close 97.
What’s the secret ingredient?
I think it’s the wrist movement on the seasoning. My mother does this special da-da-da-da when she adds the spices. Alex went to culinary school but they must not teach it there…
How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
I’d say I’m enigmatically humorous. Most people think I’m very funny but if you don’t know me, you’d probably say I’m strange. But that’s what they said about Friedrich Nietzsche and Albert Einstein and all those guys. I’m often quiet: I like to sit around and think.
You didn’t appear all that pensive today on the shoot…
It was my job today to make the suits look good and to make sure everyone had a great time. Too often, I deal with difficult people all day, with arrogance, with problems… I hate that stuff! I want people to remember me as an enigmatically humorous person.
What would you change about yourself if you could?
I wish I wouldn’t have to make mistakes in order to get things right! I know it’s productive to learn from your mistakes but I wish I could automatically make the right decisions, to know the right things to do, without starting off wrong…
Listen, I would never do anything morally wrong, but I don’t pretend to be perfect and I certainly don’t feel superior to anyone else. I’m a regular guy: I like music; I love the opportunities I have to make people smile, to make people happy. And I enjoy promoting products that I believe in. If my back hurts, I use Icy Hot. If I’m thirsty, I drink Shaq soda or Arizona Iced Tea. I don’t drive a fancy car, just a regular American Buick. That’s the kind of guy I am. And I’ve learned that if you do things for the right reasons, everything comes to fruition.
What else have you learned about life?
I’ve learned that if you’re nice to people, it comes back around 10 times. If you master your program and stick to that program, the sky’s the limit. My program’s always been to be real to yourself, to be real to the people. And I’ll continue to be real.
I’m famous for saying that image is reality: I see so many people trying to create an image, which might work for a while but in the long run, if that’s not who you really are it will always catch up with you.
Any other mottos you live by?
Yes, Treat people as you expect them to be, not as they are.
As a kid who was always big, were you ever a bully?
I hate to admit it but yes. One time in school this kid told on me and I got suspended, so I went home and beat him up. Then the kid had an epileptic attack. It happened when I was 11 years old at a school in Georgia—I still remember every minute of that horrible day. But from then on, I never bullied anyone again; instead, I’d go around and protect the kids who got bullied.
Do you plan to record more music?
No ma’am. I’m just sitting back and relaxing. But I love listening to rap: everyone from Drake to Lil Wayne to Pusha T.
If you had a perfectly free weekend, what would you do?
First I’d go check on my mom and make sure she’s cool. (She lives in Orlando, about four minutes away from me.) Then I’d just hang out in my house like I always do. If you ask me my favorite vacation spot, I’d say Shaq-apulco—which is my own backyard.
Would you ever want to become an NBA coach?
Never! I’m from the old school: old-school tactics made me what I am today. I’m a hard-nose, in-your-face, do-this, do-that type of manager, but watching these youngsters who are playing now, you’re not allowed to do that anymore. In this world we live in now, I don’t think the old- school coaching tactics would work.
Who’s the coach you most admire?
Who’s the toughest player to guard?
Who’s your favorite teammate?
It’s between Penny Hardaway and Kobe Bryant. Penny because he gave me the ball every time I wanted it and Kobe because he was the other go-to guy who I could always count on to get 20 or 25 points.
How would you describe your relationship with Kobe?
When I was playing for the Lakers, I was 100 percent task-oriented. I always had to focus on the task at hand because I saw myself as the CEO of the Lakers organization and that was my job.
But often when it comes to leadership, if you focus totally on the task at hand, it could impact relationships. So Kobe and I had our differences, but right now, I’d say my relationship with Kobe is “cordial.”
Which player before your time would you have most liked to play against?
There are two of them: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and I would have mutilated him; you can quote me on that!) and Wilt Chamberlain (and that probably would have been a pretty even match-up).
Other than yourself, who would you consider the best NBA center ever?
There are actually a lot of them: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing. But I believe that the way the game is played today, the word “best” is thrown around too much. When I played, I tried to dominate because “dominant” is a category all its own. And I believe there are only two people in that “dominant” category: Wilt Chamberlain and myself. That said, there were a lot of guys who might have been fundamentally better than me but the way I played, I was the most dominant.
Anything you regret not accomplishing in your NBA career?
Yes, I hated that I missed 250 games. Since I averaged 25 points a game, that’s 6,250 additional points I should have had. Plus 5,000 missed free throws: that’s another 2,500 points. If you add those to the 28,000, it would put me at number two in scoring, instead of number six.
But aren’t you proud of being among the top scorers of all time?
Proud but frustrated: I know I could have done more.