It's a Tuesday afternoon in Harlem near Frederick Douglass Boulevard where the youngsters covort, oldheads shoot the dozens, and baby mothers purposefully stroll in what feels like another regular day there. A quick glance at the commotion surrounding the legendary Rucker Park shows it's not quite. The Entertainers Basketball Classic, a streetball tournament that features the best of the best on the court, is in session and even deeper within the park's confines is the legendary Shaquille O'Neal. He's in town to promote the Reebok Shaqnosis weekend re-release and he's answering a few of the media's questions.
In his baritone voice, O'Neal directly answered questions regarding the anticipation behind the Shaqnosis, his recent comments on Dwight Howard, and the popular "Who would be in your starting five?" Some interesting takeaways are how he equivalates Howard's departure to a kid running home after a sonning at Rucker and how Hakeem Olajuwon was the only person he couldn't intimidate. Check out what the Big Aristotle had to say below:
On the Shaqnosis:
"I don’t know [how the Shaqnosis ranks amongst other signatures]. There’s a lot of people in the world…LeBron got some hot ones, Kobe, Durant. I know we’re doing a limited amount at Foot Locker…I’m just blessed. I’m 41 and I haven’t played in a few years, but young kids will be wearing them and talking about them so I don’t really complain about much.
If they sell out, that's good. If they don’t, I understand. I’ve never been in the business to outsell this guy or outsell that guy. There’s enough kicks to go around. A lot of kids stick to one kind…[there’s the] Jordans, the Converse Weapons, the Georgetown Hoyas [Nike Terminators]. As long as I’m in that mix, then I’m happy.
When I was coming up, Reebok gave me a chance to have my own sneaker. They didn’t really let me design them, but they let me have a say on the look. I always wanted myself to be different. The first one is different, this one is different, and all the rest of them are different. Luckily, I just had that opportunity. It was always a stigma that big men couldn’t sell…but I think kids look at me and they see a little bit of themselves in me. I always tell them, ‘I’m from the same area you’re from, I did the same things you do, I got tats…I got earrings, sag my pants.’ I think I’m that portal from here to there."
Could Dwight Howard be another in a line of great Lakers big men had he stayed?
“I don’t know. Maybe. It depends on what your attitude is like. I knew about Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Wilt [Chamberlain], but I didn’t want to be three—which either means I got to be either two or one. My thought process was Wilt got two, Kareem got six, so I gotta get in between somebody. I even made the comment last year and they gave me heat about it. In order to get proper respect in Laker land, you have to get three. [Andrew] Bynum has two and [Pau] Gasol has two, so are you telling me those guys are in the same category? They’re not in the same category, so for him to be up there with those names, he’d have to get two or three.
“I got a lot of heat the other day about not everybody could handle the bright lights, which is true especially when you ask for it. For example, a lot of people could be wherever they’re from and say, 'I could play at Rucker Park.' Then when they get crossed and get embarrassed and go back home…you asked to come up here and play and you didn’t produce. So when I say ‘not everybody likes those bright lights,’ I mean, not everyone can handle it."
When you came to LA, did you talk to Kareem, Jerry or any of those guys?
"Kareem and Wilt never talked to me...They never said anything. I took it as a 'OK, you don’t know my name, yet'” and I fed off that. And that’s actually what I’m trying to do with Dwight. I’m actually trying to get Dwight into the “Fuck Shaq” mode that got me to step my game up. That’s what I did. I was averaging 30 points and they never said anything to me. And I was like “OK,” and after I won the first [NBA title], they still never said nothing to me. Dwight needs to learn how to use criticism as an education. I’m not bashing him, I’m just trying to protect him. Because if he does what I said he should do, nobody can say nothing. That’s what I always say on TNT, you average 20 and 10. If you average 20 and 10 nobody can say nothing."
His all-time starting five:
“Magic [Johnson] at the 1, [Michael] Jordan at the 2, [Larry] Bird at the 3, [Hakeem Olajuwon] at the 5, and [Charles Barkley] at the 4.
"Hakeem’s the only one who I couldn’t intimidate."
I liked him because he was like a dancer on the block. When I watch big men, I hate watching a boring big man. He could go left, right, and slide and put it between his legs. Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was great, but when I was young, my father almost beat me up for not learning the Sky Hook. I had to tell him it’s just boring to me and I don’t want to do that. Luckily, Patrick Ewing was doing the jump hook so I developed that. Kareem was one of the greatest, but I like Hakeem. Hakeem had more stuff on the block."