Shaquille O’Neal is retired now, but he still does everything big. When he realized Toms didn’t carry his size, he eventually spoke to the head of the company, who told him he couldn’t make O’Neal a pair of one-offs in a 22.
“How many pairs would you have to make?” O’Neal inquired. A thousand, came the reply. So Shaq bought a thousand pairs of Toms. At least he doesn’t have to worry much about closet space.
This was just one of the stories O’Neal told in NYC on Tuesday night as part of an American Express event alongside longtime foil and fellow Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning, moderated by NBA analyst Doris Burke. O’Neal and Mourning were the 1 and 2 overall picks in the 1992 Draft, teammates on 1994’s Dream Team II (where, according to both, they still didn’t speak to one another), and eventually 2006 World Champion teammates on the Miami Heat. O’Neal came to think so highly of Mourning that he called on Zo as one of four legends to induct him into the Hall of Fame last summer.
Mourning is still with the Heat in a front-office position, and even at 47 appears to be in game shape. O’Neal on the other hand has fully embraced retirement, conceding that Mourning would easily win a current-day matchup. Don’t hold out hope of Shaq dominating The Big Three league.
Before he went on stage, we talked to O’Neal about beating (and beating up) the current-day Warriors, whether LeBron James should decamp for Los Angeles, and the time he spent $27,000 at an Arizona Walmart.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
What do the Cavs have to do, what does anyone have to do to compete with the Warriors next year?
They gotta rack up. You got a team that won 73 games. They you add a scoring machine like Kevin Durant. Man, hey. So Cleveland got LeBron and Kyrie, Love—you gotta add one more big name. But even though the Warriors won, I don’t like to go back on ifs, but if Kyle Korver would have hit those damn shots that he missed, then the series would have been tied 2-2 and it would have been different. Maybe the Warriors feel a little bit of pressure, maybe they start thinking about it. The others on the Cavs are definitely gonna have to step up. The good thing about the Warriors is their “others” ain’t others. They’re superstars. When Steph Curry gives the ball up, oh shit, it’s Klay. When Klay gives the ball up, oh shit it’s KD. Then you got Draymond hitting shots too and Iguodala playing; they’re gonna be there for a while. If they can stay together and work the money and get the salary cap right, they’re gonna be up there for a long time.
How would you guys have played them in your Laker prime?
Oh, we woulda beat ‘em up. Yeah, we woulda beat ‘em up. We would have forced Curry into the lane, and every time he came into the lane we would have fouled him hard. We would have fouled him very, very hard. They would have to go big, because all that playing small? Draymond would have been in foul trouble, JaVale McGee would have definitely been in foul trouble, Zaza would have been in foul trouble. So we definitely would have beat ‘em up.
"I don’t remember how I got the black card, but some big-time exec just brought it to the house and knocked on the door. In 1995, in L.A., somebody knocked on the door and just gave me a black card. I had no idea what it was, I didn’t know the importance of it until I pulled it out in a restaurant and they were like, [shocked look] 'You’ve got a black card?!?'"
Do you think that’s something that’s missing? People talk a lot about the decline of physicality in the NBA, and you watched KD go right to the basket in that series.
I don’t know what happened. I think this generation is scared of being fined or, it’s like—put it this way, my children don’t like to be yelled at. So it’s like they’re playing like they don’t want to get in trouble. My motto was “Fuck the fine.” I’m gonna knock you out and then whatever happens, happens. I always looked at it like tax. You’re supposed to make this much, but the tax, they take it out, that’s what I always said to myself. I get into a fight, I get suspended, it’s just tax, I just gotta make it up on the next one.
But yeah, Steph Curry and those guys get into the lane so easily. I never seen nothing like that before.
Your old boss from L.A., Jerry West, is going to the Clippers. Do you think he can make a difference with them?
He can definitely make a difference. His knowledge of the game—Jerry West has the ability to look at people and know who they are before they do. Like Charlotte was like, we got this high school kid, Kobe Bryant, Jerry saw him work out and knew. He knew. He said, “Hey, we’ll give you Vlade. We’ll give you another guy, just gimme that little 18-year-old kid.” And they did it. That was one of the worst decisions in sports history. He has that. He saw that in me. He said, “Look, I see you transcending the big man position, L.A.’s the place for you, you like to do other things, your personality’s good for L.A.,” and it worked out. It’s just unfortunate that he didn’t stay with the Lakers for a long period of time. But he went to Golden State and he’s given Bob Myers all that knowledge and Bob’s turned into one of the best general managers in the league.
As a superstar who went to L.A. in his prime, do you think there’s any chance LeBron goes?
I wouldn’t. His legacy is already set. The only thing he’s doing to his legacy is adding pages—good pages, bad pages, still adding pages. When it’s all said and done he’s still gonna be one of the best players, still have what, three championships? So if I was him I would just stay home and just try to rack up as many as I can in Cleveland. There’s no need to ring chase when you’ve already got three. No, I wouldn’t if I was him—I would stay home with my family and my kids in the community that I won the championship before and then just—you gotta stay on the general manager. Golden State got all these pieces, you gotta move. You gotta move. That’s what you gotta do.
How are you enjoying this part of your career, in retirement?
Lovin’ it. Because my motto is “It could be worse.” I wake up every day and I look at my Google calendar and I got something to do. I’m the happiest man alive. I know a lot of guys in my position ain’t doing anything. Nothing. They wake up, have nothing to do and just drink or fuck around. We just came here from China, five days, landed yesterday, came here this morning, going to Nashville after this, going back home for two days, coming back up to New York, going to the Bahamas, after the Bahamas going back to Miami—I just bought myself a new car.
What did you get?
I got a Ferrari California. So I’m gonna drive that around Miami for a couple of days, then I’m gonna relax the whole months of July and August.
You’re a guy who’s had relationships with certain brands for a long time. What about your relationship with American Express?
I’ve had my AmEx card since 1992. I don’t remember how I got the black card, but some big-time exec just brought it to the house and knocked on the door. In 1995, in L.A., somebody knocked on the door and just gave me a black card. I had no idea what it was, I didn’t know the importance of it until I pulled it out in a restaurant and they were like, [shocked look] “You’ve got a black card?!?” So the guy was like, hey, you gotta be big time to get one of these. So I’ve been with them since ‘92. And then when we did the promos last year, they’re a great company—they’re a serious company. That’s what I loved about them. They’ve been around, they’ve been excellent for 167 years, and I think we stand for the same things. We care about people, we care about certain issues, and I think it’s a good partnership.
What’s the biggest thing you bought on your black card?
I always tell this story, I have the highest purchase in Walmart history—$27,000. And the AmEx security was so good they denied it until they called me. I was in Phoenix at the Walmart because I just got traded, and I actually was embarrassed, actually getting ready to go home and curse my accountant out like, “Yo, man.” And then somebody from AmEx security called me—I don’t even know how they got my number—”This is AmEx security, somebody stole your card and is at WalMart spending $27,000.” I said, “No, that’s me.” And the guy was kinda like, “What the hell are you buying for $27—all right, I’ll approve it.” And it got approved. But things like that, stories like that will always be in my mind, just showed me what kind of company they are. Even if it was stolen they could have let it go, but they was like, you know what, no one spends that much at Walmart, we gotta make sure. And they made sure.
You’re sharing a stage with Alonzo Mourning tonight; you’ve been sharing stages with him since the 1992 Draft.
Alonzo and I, we needed each other. The first article I read said, “They’re gonna be the next Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.” So whenever you’re playing against a guy like that, you have to step up. Because we all have egos, I was No. 1 and he was No. 2, when I was playing I always had to let people know they made the right decision. And I’m sure he was saying, “Hey, I should have been No. 1.” It’s crazy they don’t talk about the battles we had—probably what happened my battles with [Patrick] Ewing and [David] Robinson outshadowed the battles I had with Zo, but me and him we had some epic battles. They almost turned into fistfights. It was crazy.
You guys obviously went hard at each other. What was it like when you became teammates?
It was good, it was something that I said to myself, I’m getting older, I won three in a row, went back again, lost one, wasn’t really the Shaq of old—then an opportunity came for him to join me; I jumped at it quickly, I said yeah. Because I knew he was gonna be a backup, but I knew he had that—like, when you don’t win a championship, you’ve got a certain kind of hunger, right? Then when you win three or four it’s hard to keep that same type of hunger. Like you want it, but when you don’t have it? You’ll do whatever. Being that he didn’t have it? He played like a fuckin’ animal, and we were able to win. Because I didn’t have the Shaq-type Finals that I usually had. And if it wasn’t for him and [James] Posey and Antoine [Walker] and guys like that, we wouldn’t have won. He definitely played big.
Which championship meant the most for you? Was there one of them—
None of them. I was always programmed to bring all my trophies home to my father. So the fact that I could bring him that, see him cry, it was good to me. They’re all very special, they’re all very important, but no one is more important than the other.
If you were to do a new rap record today, who would you want on it? What MCs would you want to do tracks with?
Well, the ones that I would want on ‘em I already did with ‘em. So...you’re talking about the new artists?
I would like to do something with Kendrick. I would like to do something with 2 Chainz. And Lil Wayne. And, of course, Mr. Ross. I love Mr. Ross. Oh yeah, and Trae the Truth out of Houston. If I did an album it would be the same concept where I do it with all my favorite people. I think I might—nah, I’m 45, I can’t do it.
Jay’Z’s coming out with a new record.
Yeah, but Jay’s different.
Who’s the best rapper in the NBA now to you?
I hear a lot of guys try. I think Damian Lillard’s pretty good. But I’ve never been into the critiquing business. For me, doing an album, I never wanted to be a rapper. That wasn’t it. It was about a young kid following his dreams being on the same tracks with different—I used to tell rappers all the time, y’all don’t make enough money for me. This is too much work, too little money. I make this by doing an autograph session. It wasn’t being about being a rapper, it was about being able to rap with some of the hottest artists in the world. That was what my whole album concept was about. So I don’t critique guys, if they feel they can do it, power to ‘em. But—but—they have to know and understand that people are listening and watching with a sharp ear, so if you’re gonna come, you gotta come correct.