I personal a reproduction Shaquille O’Neal jersey from almost each workforce he performed for within the NBA. My first tattoo again within the day? The Superman emblem, very like O’Neal’s, on the bicep.

That “The World Is Mine” tattoo on my left bicep? That wasn’t impressed by the film “Scarface.” That was a nod to Shaq and his “TWisM” model. I purchased each rap album he put out. Check out my profile pic on Twitter: It’s me and Shaq representing our fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

So good luck placing collectively a documentary that’s going to show me one thing I don’t learn about probably the most dominant bodily pressure the NBA has seen since Wilt Chamberlain.

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Well, O’Neal opens up on digicam in a method that’s uncommon in “SHAQ,” a four-part documentary collection airing on HBO. The first episode debuted Nov. 23, with the subsequent three episodes to comply with the subsequent three Wednesdays.

For starters, we discovered that Superman has been scuffling with insomnia because the death of his sister Ayesha Harrison-Jex from terminal most cancers in October 2019 and the death of his Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant in February 2020. Also, O’Neal trusted painkillers to get by means of video games. And he regrets how his infidelity contributed to the top of his marriage.

“At some point as a man, you’ve got to look in the mirror and say I (messed) up, and I did that many a night,” O’Neal advised The Athletic. “Trust me.”

O’Neal gained 4 NBA championships and likewise was the league MVP in 2000. He thrived on the court docket with a mix of dimension, energy, ability and athleticism like nothing the game had ever seen.

But in “SHAQ,” there are extra glimpses into the Shaq we don’t see on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” or when he was dominating the sport at his peak. There are conversations he by no means had with Penny Hardaway and conversations he wished he’d had with Bryant earlier than his dying. O’Neal fell into the trimmings of fame in his private life, and it value him his marriage. He was a giant child at instances. Too massive of a child generally, and it irked folks.

It all makes O’Neal much more relatable as we see extra sides of him. So, if you happen to already appreciated O’Neal, you’ll most likely like him much more.

“I just wanted to show people the real insight of me,” O’Neal stated. “Showed you a lot of snippets of who I am, very jovial, very friendly, helpful. Just wanted to show you everything, show you some vulnerable moments. This will be the last time I get vulnerable.”

Series director Rob Alexander was a type of tasked with dealing with moments when O’Neal opened up, together with fellow director Peter Berg.

Capturing completely satisfied Shaq is one factor. That’s the model folks like myself grew to become a fan of within the early Nineteen Nineties, and he stays fashionable as we speak by means of his TV work and myriad commercials and endorsements.

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When an individual like O’Neal opens up, it’s pure to need to hear extra. But it additionally requires the belief Alexander gained from O’Neal in almost two years of engaged on the mission.

“Those moments are incredibly delicate,” Alexander stated. “You work very hard to allow someone to be that vulnerable, that open with you. I think Shaq is very aware of what he’s presenting. I definitely feel like the environment of us allowed itself to open up to a place of depth that neither of us was anticipating but probably hoping, and you just keep going, you keep pushing.”

Having been by means of a divorce, I do know discussing it isn’t simple, particularly when youngsters are concerned. No wise father or mother desires to trash the opposite father or mother in a public discussion board. There’s additionally the concern the youngsters will facet with one father or mother, making a relationship troublesome.

Alexander stated he was lucky O’Neal’s relationships together with his youngsters weren’t in a nasty place in the course of the course of. Three of O’Neal’s youngsters — daughter Taahirah and sons Shareef and Myles — have been interviewed for the collection.

It’s in these moments O’Neal discusses his shortcomings in fatherhood, and Taahirah talks about wishing he had been extra current earlier in her life.

“One thing I think they do appreciate is how hard I work for them,” O’Neal stated. “It’s a blessing. I know people that don’t have a relationship with their kids. As crazy as I was, as bad as I was, for them to still love me, call me daddy, I’m nothing but blessed. That’s why I’ll never complain.”

Some intimate moments have been captured when the digicam stored rolling after an interview. One of these got here when O’Neal revealed it’s laborious for him to go to sleep earlier than 5 a.m. since his sister and Bryant died.

Alexander blends these moments with interviews of former teammates from a number of groups and coaches relationship to O’Neal’s highschool days to present the “Most Dominant Ever” a coat of relatability that’s not often seen.

“Some of these moments happen outside of action and cut, so you always have to be prepared for that,” Alexander stated. “Then it’s just about storytelling.”

But Shaq’s emotions aren’t the one ones uncovered. It may not have been intentional, however the collection makes his followers suppose once more about what they demand. At least it did for me.

By the time I met O’Neal, the participant, he was with the Phoenix Suns. This was close to the top of his profession. I wasn’t the identical child who wished a pair of his Reebok Pumps or Shaqnosis sneakers. But whilst an older grownup, I didn’t notice precisely what O’Neal put himself by means of to play.

I’d examine how he didn’t maximize his abilities. How he might have labored more durable and wasn’t the chief he might have been.

But what if O’Neal was simply … in ache?

Well, he was. At one level, painkillers grew to become a part of his pregame routine. More than 20 years in the past, the dialogue round athletes and medicines was completely different. Cannabis was dangerous. Pills that bought you on the court docket have been acceptable. A pain-killing injection? Whatever it took to play!

Instead of the one capsule advised, O’Neal would possibly’ve taken two as a result of, in any case, he’s a giant man. Blood in his stool? All a part of the price to be nice.

Former Lakers athletic coach Gary Vitti grew to become emotional recalling a few of the accidents O’Neal performed with, wishing he had advised folks precisely what O’Neal put himself by means of simply to get on the court docket.

“I could have a good game, but if I didn’t take the painkillers, I wouldn’t have a great game,” O’Neal stated. “Sometimes I’d take it, and I’d be bleeding when I (used the bathroom). There would be blood, but when you’re a warrior and you’re trying to win — win for yourself, win for your family and win for everybody — nothing matters and nobody cares. That was my mentality.”

Basketball followers benefited from what O’Neal did to play, even when within the second we didn’t care.

Many of us lack empathy for the ache athletes cope with, particularly athletes the dimensions of O’Neal. I do know I as soon as felt that method, however after years within the sports activities writing enterprise, I modified my perspective.

That doesn’t alleviate the stress athletes like O’Neal really feel to play. He admitted he performed at instances when he shouldn’t have, however he did so for the daddy who introduced his son to a recreation for the primary time. Or to guard his identify, chase a championship or be a pacesetter.

“When you get to a certain level, people expect you to play at that level all the time,” O’Neal stated. “Once I became Shaq, nobody cares that your knees hurt. Nobody cares that you have a torn abdominal. We pay our money to watch you play; we want to see a great game, and I took that in stride, too.

“You know one of my favorite words, perseverance … just have to persevere, brother. That’s what it’s all about.”

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Shaquille O’Neal, an NBA 75 participant, throughout halftime of the 2022 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland. (David Richard / USA Today)

O’Neal’s post-playing days are as busy as ever. He has a number of enterprise ventures, a lot of which he doesn’t make public. He typically asks to be on the board of firms when approached about endorsements (like Papa John’s pizza) as a result of he believes that’s extra impactful than being only a pitchman.

“I think the people like the authenticity of what I’m giving them,” O’Neal stated. “I represent affordability. I represent things that work for me and parents like that. And because you guys liked me, you tell your kids who I am. There are a lot of guys that played with me, played before me, and kids don’t even know who they are.”

And he’s all the time had a coronary heart for kids. That has not modified. Remembering what number of “fake Big Wheels” he had rising up, O’Neal likes to stroll round Walmart and Best Buy and “ear hustle.” He appears to be like out for moms with their sons as a result of he remembers how his mom struggled to purchase him the issues he wished and doesn’t need to see a son depart a retailer wanting for one thing merely due to the worth.

O’Neal talked a few current encounter in a retailer when he heard a mom inform her son she couldn’t afford a $1,700 laptop computer. So, O’Neal requested the kid if he was doing properly at school and bought a constructive response.

“I said, ‘Ask your mother if you can take a laptop from a stranger,’” O’Neal stated. “So he went and asked his mom, and the mom recognized me and said, ‘You don’t have to do this.’ I’m like, ‘It’s nothing, I’ll buy you the laptop.’”

O’Neal needed to impart a little bit of knowledge together with the brand new know-how.

“I have to explain to him you can’t be taking gifts from strangers,” O’Neal stated. “I’m cool, I’m Uncle Shaq, I’m going to give you this, but don’t be letting people come up and just buy you stuff. There’s some bad people out there.”

O’Neal isn’t a type of dangerous folks. Is he excellent? Far from it. He rankled teammates, coaches, employees members and others.

But even in that, there’s a charisma about Shaq that’s simple. It brings you in and makes you’re feeling welcomed. He provides you permission to smile, to have enjoyable.

I nonetheless questioned if he regretted sharing, particularly since he didn’t all the time share when he was enjoying.

“No,” O’Neal stated. “Because a lot of that stuff I talked about, a lot of that stuff, you hold on to it for a long time. It was time to release it, let it go and let people know how you feel.”

(Top picture: Paras Griffin / Getty Images for HBO)



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