In 1992, Shaquille O’Neal was on the precipice of superstardom. He had just finished a historic three-year career at Louisiana State University that included an AP Player of the Year Award as well as three First Team All-America honors. O’Neal was on top of the world, being drafted number one overall in the ‘92 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic, and was receiving multiple offers for lucrative sneaker deals.
Ultimately, O’Neal opted to sign an endorsement deal with Reebok as opposed to other brands like Nike, largely due to the big man’s desire to have his own signature line. O’Neal even recalls a story of walking into the Nike offices wearing a Reebok jacket to inform the competition of his intentions.
“I didn't want to call, and I wanted to go there and shake their hand like a man with my Reebok jacket on and let them know that the Diesel is coming,” O’Neal says.
O’Neal and Reebok went on to have a successful partnership, resulting in heralded ‘90s basketball models like the Shaq Attaq and the Shaqnosis. Reebok has announced that O’Neal is to become the brand’s new president of basketball. In his new role, the Hall of Famer’s main objective will be to reignite Reebok’s presence in an already-crowded performance basketball footwear space.
“As a president, I know what my role is. I'm gonna be really focusing on player development and partnerships,” O’Neal tells Complex.
But O’Neal will not be going at this new journey alone, as he will be joined by fellow Hall of Famer and Reebok lifer Allen Iverson, who is being named the vice president of basketball. Like Shaq, Iverson’s main focus will be to help drive player recruitment while simultaneously building grassroots and community-based initiatives, and athlete activations.
For details on Shaq’s plans to build up Reebok Basketball, his experience in the footwear industry, and more, check out our full interview below. This conversation has been slightly condensed for clarity.
You've been with the brand since 1992, and now you’ve been named the president of basketball operations. Can you just speak to how important Reebok has been for your journey and what it means for you to step into such a prominent role with the brand?
It's been a perfect journey for me. You know, there’s truly no one more qualified for this role than me. I will oversee basketball strategy, help advise on product development, develop partnerships and players organizations. And I really want to focus on player development. And I can remember, when I came in, we had a certain type of player with a certain type of swag.
When I first was being recruited by sneaker companies, the other two so-called powerhouses didn't believe in me as much as Reebok did. When I went to the Nike office, I had a Reebok jacket on. I didn't want to call, and I wanted to go there and shake their hand like a man with my Reebok jacket on and let them know that the Diesel is coming. And Reebok believed in the Shaq brand, which I made up in college. And they went with it, shoes, shirts, shorts, apparel, and it was a beautiful thing and I kind of want to bring that back. Reebok was purchased by Adidas, and some things happened and Adidas absorbed all our business deals and all our relationships. They kind of pushed us out of the way, and Authentic Brands went and purchased Reebok. Now we definitely want to get back in the space and compete for what was once ours. I can remember we were either one or two, whoever you talk to. So just trying to get us back in that space, we are going to launch performance product in ‘24, and then we'll have an official consumer launch in ‘25.
You mentioned the Adidas days quickly. What were your thoughts when Reebok was sold and got to be its own entity again, operating outside of Adidas?
It was my good friends Corey and Jamie Salter and Authentic Brands. And I helped urge them to get Reebok because I got tired of seeing my baby pushed further and further and further away. And we're really competitive, Allen [Iverson], Todd [Krinsky], and myself—that's the team that remembers when we were on top, and everybody loves being on top.
You’ve had your own sneaker brand in the past. How do you think that experience is going to help you in such a high stakes role with Reebok?
It's all about the teammates; you can't win a championship without great teammates. I got point guards in the business. I got a power forward. I got a shooting guard. I'm definitely gonna have a lot of help. Everyone has a role. Even as a president, I know what my role is. I'm gonna be really focusing on player development and partnerships, and everybody's gonna play their role and have meetings, and we're going to work together as a team. I look forward to the challenge.
You've mentioned player development a few times. I assume one of your main goals is to sign new players in the league. What type of player are you looking for?A player that can help us transcend into the next level. A player that has that it factor. It’s really hard to explain. Like, you look at Allen Iverson. When he first came, he was the guy. He just had that it factor. You look at Shaq—a little skinny guy, he came in; he had that it factor. So we're gonna be looking to make some noise, males, females, and influencers in other sports. Again, as the new president of basketball operations, I look forward to the opportunity.
Reebok has such an iconic history with yourself, Allen Iverson, and stars in other sports like Emmitt Smith. How are you going to leverage the history that Reebok has to help build the future?
AI is, like, really truly one of the founding fathers, the cornerstone of Reebok basketball. He will definitely be by my side. And, you know, all the other guys, I will definitely be taking the input from those guys, but we're looking to come back strong.
On your personal Instagram page, you're always posting top five rankings. What are your top five Reebok basketball sneakers of all time?
I'm not familiar with the names, but I'm gonna go at the point guard with that first Shaq; at the shooting guard, I'm gonna go with the Shaqnosis; at the small forward, I got those AIs; power forward, I'm gonna go with those Kemps; and at the five, I'm gonna go with the J.J. Watts, which was a workout shoe. So J.J. Watt, that would be my top five. I definitely have to go back and look. You know, we have a nice archive of all the shoes at Reebok headquarters. They give you a nice timeline of all the shoes, a beautiful thing.
We've seen guys like, Taurean Prince, for example, wear Allen Iverson shoes in games recently. How much would it mean for you to, like, just see a strong roster of guys finally wearing Reebok performance basketball shoes on the court again?That's gonna be my job, and I'm already on it, and I got a couple of players in mind. I haven't started the job yet, but when I get behind my desk, I will be ready to go to work.
You’ve also always found ways to give back with your footwear, whether it be keeping your pricing incredibly affordable or helping that high schooler with big sizes. How do you plan to continue giving back at Reebok?
You know, we just want to come with some great designs, great technology, and we want to be consumer friendly and price friendly, price competitive. My other brand is very, very affordable, but no Reebok. We just want to, you know, compete with other guys, but we know what to do when it comes to pricing.
What are your current thoughts on just the state of basketball footwear in general right now?
There's a lot of players in the game. It's all over the place. But I think there’s room for Reebok to re-enter and reemerge ourselves as one of the leaders of basketball footwear. Because when it all first started out, we were number one or number two—depends on who you talk to. There's a lot of players in the game, and we had a lot of influential players. There was myself, and AI, and Kemp, and Dominique. I think we'll be able to make some noise again.
What was AI's reaction when you told him about your new role?
We’ve been friends forever. He's a great dude, he's a great friend, and he was happy—and he'll be next to me.
I don’t know if you’ve been following what MSCHF has been doing, but now they have a Pump collab. What are your thoughts on the brand and how they’ve entered the sneaker world?
And whose idea you think that was? Shaq for president, baby—vote for me! I'm telling you, we have a tremendous team, young talent, experienced talent that's been there. We’ll definitely be doing other collabs like that. But I think, you know, Allen and Todd, they were responsible for that one, but it was a great decision, and I'm really happy for MSCHF, and I'm glad they chose us for that collab. You just have to be flexible and mix it up. And again, I got a great team behind me. The reason why I'm not worried about this position is because I'm not out there by myself.