Former NBA megastar and TNT basketball analyst Shaquille O’Neal has always stood out in the world of celebrities and beloved athletes, and not just because he’s over 7 feet tall.
In the mid-1990s, my family couldn’t, or wouldn’t, buy me the latest pair of Michael Jordan’s expensive Air Jordan shoes from Nike. My mother said O’Neal’s much more affordable Shaq Attaq shoe from Reebok would be sufficient.
Turns out, Mom was right. I wore them with pride.
Shaq has always had an underlying quality of humility and charm to accompany his on-the-court greatness. Since retiring from the game in 2011, he’s become a cultural phenomenon, a top basketball commentator and the face of numerous products that I might consider buying, thanks to the spokesman.
But don’t you dare call the four-time NBA champ a “celebrity.”
O’Neal despises celebrity culture, he told the New York Post this week. The Post reported after speaking with O’Neal that if there is one piece of his long legacy he hopes will endure, it is that he has tried to be kind and not a loudmouth star.
He also had some harsh words for the people mainstream culture touts as being normal.
“These celebrities are going freaking crazy and I don’t want to be one,” he said, apparently coming to the same conclusion as so many normal, everyday people about our morally bankrupt culture and those who influence it.
“I don’t want to be in that category. Celebrities are crazy, they really are. Don’t call me that anymore,” O’Neal said. “These people are out of their freaking mind with how they treat people, what they do, what they say.”
“That’s never been me. I never want to be looked at like that,” he said.
“I denounce my celebrity-ness today. I’m done with it,” O’Neal added while discussing a new venture with Kellogg’s to give up to 60,000 kids across the country sports equipment, playing venues and uniforms so they can have their own shot at athletic success.
The former Lakers star said he sees himself as a “regular person.”
“All my life, everyone probably gets stereotyped, but us celebrities, we get stereotyped because most of these celebrities are out of their mind,” he said. “I don’t do that. I’m a regular person that listened, followed his dreams and made it.”
O’Neal also said he’s still in touch with his roots. Raised in the most humbling of settings before spending decades in the spotlight, somehow, he still gets it.
“I came from nothing … but, just because I made it doesn’t mean I’m bigger than you, smarter than you — just because I have more money doesn’t mean I’m better than you,” he said, according to the Post. “I’ve never been that way and I never will be that way. So I don’t want to be in that category of people.”
This isn’t the first time this year that the big man has come out swinging against elitism. In June, he appeared to challenge “woke” Lakers star LeBron James, who had complained about the supposedly grueling NBA schedule despite earning a whopping $39 million to play a game last year.
“When you’re living in a world where people, 40 million people have been laid off and I’m making $200 million, you won’t get no complaining from me,” O’Neal told CNBC.
“If I gotta play back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back, and I’m making all that money, I just gotta do what the job entitles me to do,” he said.
Hopefully, O’Neal’s denunciation of the culture of pampered fame doesn’t mean we will be seeing less of him.
I’m, for one, am not ready to open up social media or turn on the TV and not see the NBA legend. Our toxic culture needs more people like the big man whose heart and determination to win and treat others with respect always meant more than his free throw shooting percentage.
Out of nostalgia, I’m half-tempted right now to start searching Mom’s attic for those 1995 Shaq Attaq shoes.
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