He may have retired from the NBA but this 7'1" man of steel is not about to disappear into a fortress of solitude. Watch out world: Shaq's just getting started.
Placed in most people’s hands, a stack of cash amounting to $848 looks impressive. In the hands of Shaquille O’Neal, it looks like Monopoly money. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he asks. “Anything you want,” I tell him. A familiar devilish grin spreads across his face. “OK, let’s go.”
Ready folks? It’s time to play America’s favorite game: famous people spend Maxim’s cash! We give them 848 smackers, and they blow it however they see fit. I flew down to Orlando with the bundle tucked inside my waistband like some sort of drug mule and drove straight to Shaq’s 24-Hour Fitness gym to hand it over. You’d probably expect the most dominant force in NBA history to be surrounded by a swarm of PR people, bodyguards, and sideways-cap-wearing douches named Turtle, but you’d be wrong. I walk into the gym’s in-house playroom, and there is just Shaq, all 7'1" of him, and his adorable four-year-old niece, Jelaiyah. Lockout or no lockout, this year one thing is for certain: There will be no Shaq. After 19 years of banging bodies and throwing down more than 28,000 points, the man known as Shaq Diesel, the Big Aristotle, and a million other nicknames, is done. “The Big Aristotle and all those other guys are dead,” he says. “Now it’s just Shaq.”
As a last dunk in his backboard-shattering career, he’s written a memoir, Shaq Uncut, which hits shelves this month. Shaq writes the way he plays: at times vicious, always entertaining (but not nearly as sweaty). He throws more than a few literary elbows at former teammates, but before we get to that it’s time to go blow some dough.
We pile into his Dodge Charger and we’re off. Destination? Orlando’s Mall at Millenia. Shaq has a fleet of cars, but this is the one he likes to cruise in. It’s a registered police vehicle. Shaq, you may remember, went to three police academies and as a sheriff has assisted in more than 500 arrests over the years. “They call me the Sniper on the shooting range. I don’t miss,” he says. “I know that’s hard to believe with my foul-shooting record.” Does Shaq drive to the mall like he is in high-speed pursuit of a wanted felon? And does his registered police vehicle help him get out of tickets for blowing through red lights? I’m not going to say yes, but I’m not going to say no.
We’re halfway to the mall when Shaq suddenly pulls over. He calls over two guys cutting grass in front of a building. Just as their brains are coming to grips with the fact that Shaquille O’Neal is standing before them, he hands each of them a crisp $100 bill. They just about have a heart attack. A group of women comes out of the building, squealing with delight and asking for pictures. Shaq happily obliges, and peels off bills for them as well. Five hundred bucks disappear in about five seconds.
“Those guys were working hard, sweating,” he says as he speeds away. “They didn’t know it, but they were working on the grounds of a building I own. I like to take care of people who take care of me, make ’em smile.”
He makes plenty of people smile when we arrive at the mall. It occurs to me that with Shaq, who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars, $848 may not go too far. I’m proven correct as he tips the valet parking attendant $40. Unending waves of camera-phone-armed shoppers follow his every step. It’s amazing, the effect he has on people. You’ll see some dude scowling as he’s shuffling along, but then he looks up and sees Shaq, and it’s like someone suddenly jammed a rainbow up his ass. “I get love from everyone: grandmas, gangsters, thugs.”
We hit Brookstone, and Shaq grabs a $60 uControl Cloud Force RC helicopter. “I’ve gone through at least 100 of these things, for real,” he tells me. “I get them in the air, and then I get excited, lose control, and crash.” He also gets a $25 kids’ toy for his niece. Despite the cashier’s best efforts, Shaq does not buy a $5 flashlight key chain.
Soon we’re shuffling off for a snack. Shuffle is the operative word: Shaq recently had Achilles tendon surgery and is walking around in house slippers. Size 22 house slippers. “You can’t just buy these. I have to call the company and tell them, ‘If you make me a size 22, I’ll buy 100 pairs.’¿” We stop at Starbucks, where Shaq gets himself a slice of pound cake and buys $70 worth of frappes for everyone in line. He’s made some incredibly smart business decisions (buying stock in Google being one), but he’s also had his share of missteps. “I met with Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. He was looking to bring the franchise into the inner city and wanted me to be the front man. He’s a great guy, but I had to be true to myself. I said, ‘Howard, thanks for the opportunity, but I’ve never seen a black person drink coffee.’ So I passed on it, and now Magic is getting my money!” I ask this master of self-marketing if he has any advice for LeBron’s damaged brand. “No, because my brand is based on reality. My image is what you see. When I first came in, a bunch of guys tried to create my image, and I’m like, I don’t do that. Most athletes today have their image created, and they can’t live up to it. I don’t wanna say no names [he mimics swinging a golf club], but they created him like he was a perfect angel! Don’t act like you’re an angel when you’re in the goddamn gentlemen’s club.”
Speaking of angels, our final stop is Victoria’s Secret. He’s picking up a little something for his girlfriend, Nikki “Hoopz” Alexander, whom you might know from VH1’s Flavor of Love. Nikki met us somewhere between Mrs. Field’s cookies and GUESS by Marciano, where Shaq bought her a $70 top. If you’ve ever felt embarrassed buying your girl lingerie, imagine picking through a barrel of panties while 37 people stick their cell phones in your face. “Can’t I buy some bras and panties without someone wanting a picture?” he laughs. Shaq regains his focus. “I want to get her something to show that I’m thinking of her. But the Maxim answer is, I want her to put it on right when we’re getting ready for whatever and I get super excited and fucking rip it off. It’s a win-win.” Shaq picks out some skimpy delights, pays up (he’s burned through our dough and is peeling bills off the massive roll in his pocket), and starts to walk out. He looks in the bag and notices one of the panties didn’t make it. “Hey, lady!” he shouts at the cashier. “What are you trying to do to me? Those are my favorite ones!” As we walk back to the car, he tells me, “Victoria’s Secret has a nice scam going on: You put it on just to take it off. Oooh, that’s good! Trademark that!”
He poses for a bunch more pictures in the parking lot, another $40 is stuck in the valet’s hand, and we’re off to the races. And by that I mean Shaq and his girl like to race each other home—he in his Charger, she in a Land Rover. They cut through parking lots, jump lights, and pull maneuvers usually best left to Bo and Luke Duke.
Shaq’s Charger is the first to arrive at his 64,000-square-foot abode, “Shaqapulco.” Orlando’s finest might not put the hammer on Mario Shaqdretti, but the security guys here in this gated community are not thrilled as we zip by. Shaq stops and apologizes. “Once I was coming home after a game and had to take a dump. It was 2 a.m. They were like, ‘You could hit someone driving that fast.’ I was like, ‘Anyone out here at 2 a.m. is looking to get hit. Now move so I don’t mess up my stomach.’¿”
Shaq gives me a tour of Shaqapulco, which includes a garage crammed with Dodge Chargers, a game room/discotheque, a backyard boat dock guarded by Superman, a taxidermy room filled with animals that had the misfortune of being in the same jungle as Shaq, and his indoor basketball court, the Shaq Center. While he sinks shot after shot (seriously!) and I brick shot after shot (humiliatingly!), I ask him about his book. In it, he describes Kobe as a socially awkward, selfish baby. He calls Skip Bayless a clueless buffoon and says he hated playing for Pat Riley. “I came to Miami off three championships. Don’t tell me how to play. In the last five years, I’ve been to the finals four times, and you were nowhere to be found. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I do. I’m in charge.” Is he worried about their reactions? “Doesn’t matter what they think. Some people will be upset, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s called Shaq Uncut for a reason.”
Shaq credits his parents for keeping his head straight all these years. “When I signed with Orlando, my father threw Kareem’s autobiography at me and said, ‘Read this fucking book. Make sure this doesn’t happen to you.’ Kareem lost everything making bad investments. I knew this ain’t gonna last forever. So my concern was, How can I maintain?”
By getting smarter. “I’m studying to get my Ph.D. in human resource development. I’ll be an expert on leadership and talk to Fortune 500 companies. My dissertation is on the duality of humor and seriousness in relationship styles, because I am anxious to see who is more effective: the humorous guy, such as myself, or the sterner guy.” Shaq, we’ll do you a favor and save you some time and tuition: The four NBA championship rings on your fingers seem to answer that question just fine.