Shaquille O’Neal on Becoming DJ Diesel, Crafting the Ultimate Playlist, and Remembering Kobe Bryant
“Before every drop I envision myself throwing down a massive dunk on a big man. And when the crowd goes wild, it takes me right back to those moments on the court.”
He was the giant that ate backboards when he entered the NBA in the 1990s. Added to that notoriety were three back-to-back championships with the L.A. Lakers between 2000 and 2002, adding another with the Miami Heat in 2006. But Shaquille O’Neal isn’t just one of the best centers to ever play basketball, he’s also a successful businessman, actor and platinum selling DJ. In fact, music was his life before it got hijacked by basketball.
“I have been DJing since the eighties,” Shaq tells Maxim. “Music has always been in my blood. I was that guy spinning at frat parties after my basketball games, in the locker room, and making mixtapes.”
His five albums in the 1990s are now bookended by his post-NBA career as Diesel, touring Europe and later bringing down the housee at the 2019 edition of Lollapalooza. Diesel rediscovered his passion for beats at TomorrowWorld EDM festival in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia.
“I showed up not knowing what to expect and was blown away seeing hundreds of thousands of people dancing and having the best time of their lives,” he recalls. “The energy reminded me of a championship game seven atmosphere. Before every drop I envision myself throwing down a massive dunk on a big man. And when the crowd goes wild, it takes me right back to those moments on the court.”
Here, Shaq talks about his music career, the passing of former teammate Kobe Bryant, the time Michael Jackson tried to buy his house, and why the championship Golden State Warriors would have no chance against his Lakers team of yesteryear.
It started out a little rocky, but by the time you got to Lollapalooza you were nailing it. What was the key to making the tour work last year?
I put the time in. My whole team did. We hit every city from L.A. to New York and even all the way to Ibiza. I even started my own festival called SHAQ’s Fun House and another touring brand called Shaq’s Bass All-Stars where I get to book all my favorite artists and put them on the lineup with me. This is really all just the beginning for Diesel and I ain’t slowing down.
Are you surprised you’re still denigrated as a celebrity DJ by some?
Definitely. Name a fake celebrity DJ that tours the way I do, produces the way I do, brings the energy the way I do, all while managing being a public figure. If I wasn’t Shaq the NBA icon, I promise you I would still be spinning at a very high level. When you throw in my platinum hip hop releases next to my EDM tracks with artists like NGHTMRE and RiotTen, you get one bad, bad man behind the decks.
What makes a great playlist?
It’s all about reading the crowd. You need a little bit of everything. Sometimes I need to whip out the white boy classics depending on the crowd, but usually it’s all about bass music for me.
Early in your career you rapped in a Michael Jackson video, “2 Bad.” What was he like to work with?
The man tried to buy my Orlando house for $25 million on countless occasions. I said no every single time. I’d definitely take that deal today, though. There will never be another Michael Jackson, and I am not sure the world needs one.
Are you spinning during quarantine? How are you keeping busy?
One word—family. I usually travel so much and unfortunately do not get to spend as much time as I’d like with the people I love most. So, I’ve taken this time to relax and be with my family in Orlando. I’ve been playing a ton of ball with my sons, enjoying the outdoors.
Draymond Green said his championship Warriors would beat your Lakers. Any thoughts on that? I have a hard time believing that the greatest coach of all time, plus me and Kobe, wouldn’t match up quite nicely against Steve Kerr and his gang. Kobe takes Steph and dominates him. Fisher takes Klay and manhandles him. Fox takes Draymond and makes him foul out in the first half. Horace would do his thing with K.D. But let’s be real, K.D., is a beast, and you can only do so much with him. And then I’d remind Pachulia why I am in the Hall of Fame and he is not.
What is your fondest memory of Kobe Bryant?
I really cherish the time I had with Kobe. We helped each other win the championship for the first time. That says it all. Without Kobe I would have never maximized my true potential. I like to think the same for him. But if I had to choose one moment it would be Kobe’s final game at the Staples Center. He looked so at peace while on the court. He was a free man with no pressure at all to score or deliver. He dropped 60 that game and I was there courtside to cheer him on.
Where were you when you heard of his passing? What were your first thoughts?
I was at home working out with my sons. Halfway through I see someone running in the gym with a cell phone in their hand calling my name. As they get closer I can see the phone has a TMZ alert about the helicopter crash. Then I see it involves Kobe. At first I thought this was just a rumor and there was no chance of any validity behind it. By the time I finished playing, the news was everywhere. I knew it was real. I could feel it.
How much did a career in the NBA prepare you for parenting?
The NBA provided me with a framework to grow and evolve. Coming out of LSU I thought I was the biggest name in the country, literally and figuratively. I was unstoppable on and off the court. I was very ‘me’ focused, though. The NBA taught me basketball is a team game. Now I am a coach for my sons and daughters both on and off the court. You need to know when to manage your emotions and stay calm, but also know when to lay down the law. Same in basketball. Most importantly you have to love your teammates or there will be no chemistry. They need to know your strengths and weaknesses just like your family does.