Shaq Talks Giving Back And What He Thinks Will Separate The 2021 Champs From Everyone Else

No human seems to have more things going on at a given time than Shaquille O’Neal. This was the case during his NBA career — he’d play games and use his free time to, say, make a movie or drop an album or wrestle or any other number of things — and now that he’s retired, he’s making sure free time doesn’t pile up.

He’s on TNT twice a week as a basketball analyst. He’s a businessman who seems to have a new venture every week. He’ll dabble in music, especially as a DJ, and he’ll still show up on TV and in movies every now and then. There was even a moment earlier this year when he got back into pro wrestling for a second, because Shaq is the kind of person who seems physically incapable of slowing down.

The latest way he’s keeping himself occupied is by partnering up with The General for a new video series through Bleacher Report called Shaq Gives Back. In it, the big man and the insurance company’s mascot with which he’s appeared in commercials for years go to a trio of businesses in the greater-Atlanta area and shines a spotlight on them, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has done a number on small businesses nationwide. The first episode debuts on April 13.

Ahead of Shaq Gives Back, we caught up with the Hall of Fame inductee to talk about the show, charity, Inside the NBA, why he loves Italians (we promise, this will make sense at the end, just double-check the author’s last name first), and more.

I’d love to start by just getting some background information on this new video series that you have coming up.

We shot a three-part series called Shaq Gives Back. It debuts Tuesday the 13th on Bleacher Report. The pandemic has led to devastating effects on local communities, and The General, a long-time brand, and myself, we just teamed up to surprise and support everyday people with a break from their financial challenges. We visited three places in Atlanta: a record store, a restaurant, and a nonprofit delivery meal service. We wanted to learn about their company, their owners, their staff, and we just wanted to join the community and have them come together during this COVID-19 process.

So, none of the people knew I was there. We showed up, had a good time, and then at the end, just The General and myself, we just do what we do, just make people happy and give people a break. What a lot of people need to understand is The General is a quality insurance company. They’ve been saving people money for years, so we wanted to give back. A lot of people ask, “Why are you in bed with The General?” In 1989, when I bought by first car, which was a Bronco Two, I couldn’t afford insurance, and The General was the only insurance that I could afford, so that’s why I love The General so much.

So, you mentioned the places that you picked for this series. Were there any specific reasons why you picked the ones that you picked, or was it just those are places that are in the Atlanta community that we want to highlight here?

Well, we looked for stores that have rich tradition, stores that have been around a long time, stores that a lot of people love to visit, where people talked about it. There is this one record store in a certain part of Atlanta. Think about a record store. Not a lot of record stores have withheld time, withstood all of the downloads and this and that, and when I went in the record store, it was like, “Oh my god, I love this place.” A famous restaurant, a nonprofit delivery service, meal service — you can’t turn your back on the meal service people.

Yeah, and you mentioned the other night on TNT that whenever you leave your home, you try to do one good deed. Where does that desire to give back to people and help them out come from?

It comes from Dr. Lucille O’Neal, my woman. She’s trying to do something every day to change somebody’s life. That’s what I do. So, my favorite place to change people’s lives would be Best Buy and Walmart. I like to look for the single mom and son, or an elderly person. I remember one time, an elderly lady was looking at a 45-inch TV, and I said, “What kind of car you got?” And she said, “My son has a truck. He’s going to pick me up. He has an F-150 pickup.” I was like, “Well, pick the big TV.”

“Huh, what do you mean? I can’t afford that.” I said, “You don’t need to afford it. I got it.” She started crying. I wanted her to be able to sit back and enjoy the 75 inch. Because, just think about it, a 75 inch TV is only $700. I remember when it first came out, I was the dummy that paid $5,000 to get 75 inches around the house. Now, it’s $700, so I was able to bless an elderly woman with a TV.

And, I’m guessing that’s something that it’s rewarding every single time you do it, correct?

I just like to make people smile. I don’t do it for the need to be rewarded. I’ve already been rewarded. I’m blessed, I have a great job, I get to work with The General every day. So, it’s not about being blessed, it’s about blessing somebody else. This is something that they’ll never forget — I remember around Christmas time, I was able to go back and see my dad and my mom. It was a family that had a piece of paper, and they had how much money they had on the paper, and they had four kids. They were trying to get all their kids the best they want. And, I could remember my dad doing that. I could remember my dad coming to me and saying, “Hey, man. I don’t have enough. I’ll take care of your sisters first. Since you’re a man, I’ll take care of you the next pay day.”

So, I just told the dad, “Just grab what you want. How many kids you got?” He was like, “We got four.” I was like, “All right, 20 toys each.” “What?” I said, “20 toys each.”

“Man, you serious?” Mom started crying. “Oh my God, thank you.” I said, “Yeah, just do it.” They get what they want and I take care of it. I remember my mom and dad used to do that, used to try to ration off and save for toys and groceries, and all that stuff, so I just like to make people smile.

When you talk to young players, the guys just coming into the NBA, do you talk to them about this and say, “Listen, you have this platform, use it for something good”?

No, I just try to show them. A lot of guys, I guess they think they have their own platforms, so they try to do it their way. I just … what I’m doing, I’ve always been doing. You don’t want a guy that’s never been doing it to just try to do it, especially for this platform. Because to me, image is reality. So, if you try to create a certain image, it will catch up with you and bite you. So, I’m going to do this all my life.

I’m going to have a basketball question or two for you in a second, but one thing that I did not realize is that you’re coming up on a decade with Inside The NBA. What is it, in your eyes, that has made it so that you guys can have the same show, you, Ernie, Kenny and Chuck, and still have it be as popular as ever over all these years?

You know, one, I think people don’t understand we have G14 classification when it comes to knowledge of the game. Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, Kenny won a couple of championships, I’m a Hall of Famer, and then we’ve got the Hall of Famer Ernie Johnson. And then, we also realize that if we’re going to keep you up past 12:00 AM, that we have to at least entertain you and make you laugh. So, Charles is going to say some stuff, I’m going to say some stuff. I think when it’s not scripted, comes off as natural.

I’m sure you get asked plenty of questions about Chuck, and Ernie, and Kenny, but I love that Tuesday show. Is there anything about Adam, and Candace, and Dwyane when you’re with them, the vibe, the approach, the conversations that you have that you think differentiates it from the Thursday show.

Well, Candace and D-Wade, they’re definitely a lot more serious. They can have funny moments, but Chuck is always funny. You never know what you’re going to get from him. Adam is blessed to learn from a guy like Ernie. Adam is a consummate professional, he’s a young guy. He told me how he started off, Ernie told me how he started off in Valdosta, Georgia. So, it’s been a long journey for both of them, but the shows are kind of different.

So, whenever I see an interview with you, I feel like you’re always asked about big men. You’re asked about Embiid, Jokic, all those guys, but you also played with some incredible guards, and I want to know, what are the ways that you see a guy like Kobe or a guy like Dwyane Wade influence guards in the league right now.

You know, we’re all products of our environment, so all the guys that are playing now definitely watched D-Wade and Kobe. They ask me about big men because I am the lord supreme of all big men, when there’s a big man to win three or four championships, I will give up my kingdomship. But, it’s a fun job. A lot of time people think when I’m criticizing, I’m jumping on them, but actually, I’m giving them information on how to be great. I know how to be great, I played with the greatest guards in the game, so I always tell the youngsters that when I’m saying something, don’t take it to heart. Just know what I’m saying.

Yeah, because I always feel like stuff can be taken as criticism, but in talking to you, seeing how you say these things over time, it seems like you legitimately do care and want to see the NBA be as good of a place as possible. Is that fair?

When you understand the business and understand this thing of ours, when you’ve got guys that are playing great and guys that are playing phenomenal, everything is going to flow. Why do you think a guy like Rudy is able to make $200 million? It’s because of the guys before him. LeBron, KD, the Golden State Warriors when they went 72-10, they gave the world a great product. You can only give the world a great product when you play up to your full potential and past your full potential. Some guys just get the money and they kind of just don’t care, but you have to care, because it’s not about you when you play the game. It’s about the mom and dad. The dad that brings all his kids to the game. It’s about the corporations that are sitting there watching you. It’s about the little boy that wants to be like you. It’s always bigger than you.

So, two final questions. One, I know that there has been a bit of a push to make Kobe the logo. It doesn’t have to be that specifically, but would you like to see the league come up with some sort of permanent way to honor him?

Well, we’ve definitely honored him, but my thing is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s a lot of people you can say are the logo. Magic, Jordan — it’s a lot of guards — AI. So, he’ll always be honored, he’ll always be remembered, especially in L.A., but the NBA logo is what it is for many years. Keep it.

Then my last question, something you mentioned a few minutes ago, you know as well as anyone what it takes to win a championship. Like you say, you have the G14 classification and, as you look at the league this year and you see that there are seven, eight teams that have a shot to win, what do you think is going to separate the team that wins from everybody else?

Consistency and dominance. You look at how Brooklyn is set up. They’ve got guys that can really shoot the ball, so if you’ve got those three guys playing at a high level, shooting at a high clip, nobody’s going to beat them. They may mess around and break our record of 15-1. Then Philly — Joel is averaging 28 now, or Jokic. They’re averaging 27, 28 now. In order to get to that next level, it’s going to have to be 36, 37. And, it’s going to have to be every night, no nights off. The years I won a championship, I had to average 40. I had to average 40 and Kobe had to average 28 for us to win.

So, I always say when you get to the playoffs, you have to add at least six or seven to your points per game. But, there is a lot of dangerous teams out there. Like Portland, if they can shoot the ball well a couple of series’ they can make some noise. It’s always about consistency, because what if a guy that’s a great player has two bad games? That can change a series.

Yeah, I don’t know about you, but for me, I don’t think there is one team that is just head and shoulders above everyone else for the first time in a while. It’s, again, a bunch of teams, and maybe it’s been for you, but for me, that’s made this season just so much more fun.

You don’t think Brooklyn is head and shoulders above everyone else?

I think Brooklyn can be head and shoulders above everyone else. I want to see … you mentioned no nights off. I want to see what happens when the playoffs roll around and making sure everyone’s healthy, making sure everyone can stay on the floor, because if they are healthy and stay on the floor, I think they are head and shoulders above everyone else.

This is why I love Italians. Because, we think the same way. Like, it’s all good now, but I want to see it come around when the Playoffs come. And I agree with you, Bill DiFilippo.