Interview by Nick Engvall (@NickEngvall)
Reebok and Shaquille O'Neal had one of the most successful sneaker partnerships of the early '90s. In addition to the sneakers that we all remember — the Shaq Attaq, Shaqnosis and others — O'Neal's own brand also began through the partnership. The deal was rumored to be around $2.5 million per year over the course of five years, which back in 1992, was the biggest endorsement deal Reebok had ever done, but with Shaq being larger than life both in the entertainment sense and in the literal sense, it somehow seemed only fitting. Over the years, his Reebok sneakers have become cult classics amongst sneakerheads and he recently re-joined Reebok to bring back the coveted sneakers in this, the 20 year anniversary of their original release.
First question is for the sneakerheads like myself that heard rumors of your visit to Nike Campus. When you came out of school and were looking to sign an endorsement deal, is it true that when you went on your campus visit to Nike you went wearing all Reebok gear?
I sure did. Because Reebok was talking like they wanted to give me something. They probably figured that Nike was going to give me more, so I wanted to show them that I was dedicated. So I wore all my Reebok stuff to the Nike meeting and Nike damn near threw me off the campus. Because Nike was like, "We're not going to give you anything. We got Alonzo Mourning. We got Mike. We don't really need you. We ain't gonna pay you shit."
When I came back to Reebok, I was appreciated. They said, "The deal we had before, forget that. We're going to give you this and this." It was a whole lot more. It was a great deal. I think it was the biggest deal they'd ever done. I told them with a tear in my eye, "I ain't going to let you down." They let me create all my commercials. We did a lot of great commercials. They let me do my own shoes and we sold a lot of shoes. After five years we decided to go different ways. They were gracious enough to let me start my own line and sell shit downstairs. I was just selling more downstairs than I was upstairs. They wanted to go a different direction with basketball shoes. We just decided to part ways, on a clean note. It was all good. Now I'm back and it's all good.
Back then we were listening to you rap just as much as we were into the sneakers. You've got Swizz Beatz with you here at Reebok. Now people are even rapping about their sneakers. Any chance we'll get some new Shaq-Fu?
I may do a few freestyles, maybe drop a mixtape or something but no albums. For one, the music industry ain't like it used to be. Second of all, nobody wants to hear a 40-year old rapping.
Well, there is a certain 40-year old rapper that's doing pretty well right now.
[Laughs] Yeah, that's true. I don't know, I may do a couple joints but nothing too serious.
As for your shoes with Reebok, did you have a favorite?
I like those. [Points to Shaqnosis]
They were unorthodox. It made you look at them. It made you give a reaction. Either good or bad, and a lot a people that didn’t have the same mindset we had were like, “What the fuck?” The ones that had the same mindset we had — just think about it, you can match those with anything. That was my whole thought process. You can match them with anything. Jeans, black pants, shirt, you can match them with anything. I wanted to do different colors with them but Reebok was like, “We don’t want to do different colors. We don’t want to mix people up.”
When you were younger, high school age, how the hell did you get sneakers in your size?
It was hard. I lived in Germany, too. My uncle worked at Dr. Jay’s so they always had the big ones. It was always some bullshit, some Pro-Keds. First time I became a sneaker buff is when the Weapons came out. I had a friend, a white guy, who looked and he played like Larry Bird. We used to cut grass together. We would split the money. He would get the green and white ones because he was Bird. I would get the purple and gold because I was Magic. Then after we got out of that phase, we went to the Georgetown Hoyas. Then after that phase we went to the Jordans. I was size 15, so I bought some size 13s, put some hot water in them joints and tried to wear them. It fucked my feet up. I got corns to this day because of those Jordans. I wore them for two years straight. After that, when I was in high school and became an All-American, they used to allowed us go into the Eastbay book and I used to just get the Air Force 1s.
Sneakers have become a lot more mainstream since you were wearing these Reeboks on court. Back then, were you aware of what other players were wearing back then? What do you think has changed?
Yes. I think it’s different now because not a lot of players have their own brand. I don’t really see them all now, but Mike was the man. I knew I was either second or third. Mike was up there, I wasn’t even worried about Mike. So in my mind I was the man, I wasn’t worried about anybody else. That’s how I always looked at it. When I would go meet with all the Foot Locker places, I gotta get my shit next to Mike’s somehow. Everybody was rockin’ them Jordans. So whenever we went to meet with the Foot Locker, wherever Mike’s shit is, I need my shit right next to it. That’s how you run a business. Instead of putting your shit across the street, I’m trying to compete with Mike. Mike’s right there? Put my shit right up there. So when they walk by, they don’t like the Mike’s…because if they know Mike, they’re gonna know Shaq.
The Reebok Shaq Attaq releases at select retailers Friday, April 19th for $160.