“Hey Shaq, play Justin Bieber” is on the way to a digital assistant near you. Shaquille O’Neal has joined the cast of celebrity voices available on Amazon’s assistant, Alexa. On July 19, Amazon announced the voices of both O’Neal and actor/comedian Melissa McCarthy are the latest available through the device.
O’Neal, a Basketball Hall of Famer who is an analyst for TNT’s Inside the NBA, is no stranger to entertainment avenues. He starred in the much-ballyhooed box-office bust Kazaam back in the day, and he co-starred with Nick Nolte and then-Orlando Magic teammate Anfernee Hardaway in Blue Chips.
However, the volume of recording that had to be done to get Shaquille O’Neal on Alexa caught him off-guard.
‘It was like reading out of the dictionary’
Amazon said it took roughly 60 hours over three months to train Alexa to sound like Shaquille O’Neal. It was an elaborate enough project that the company built a recording studio in O’Neal’s house. (Wait, wouldn’t the self-styled rap artist already have one of those?) Shaq said the work was more challenging than he anticipated, according to Variety.
“It was like reading out of the dictionary. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”Shaquille O’Neal
O’Neal spent up to eight hours some days while recording the various words, phrases, and sentences.
Amazon now has three celebrity voices available for Alexa, adding McCarthy and Shaquille O’Neal to Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson’s voice has been available since 2019 (complete with his colorful vocabulary for users that choose to activate it).
What can a user get Shaquille O’Neal to do?
With a simple, “Hey, Shaq,” Alexa users can ask a virtual Shaquille O’Neal to perform any of the device’s tasks. Users can get the weather, play music, or set the alarm.
But the Shaq voice also includes rapping on request. O’Neal is excited about the venture.
“I just wanted to add my personality to the Alexa experience. I think the fans are gonna love it. They’re going to see a unique side of me.”Shaquille O’Neal
Part of the uniqueness stems from O’Neal ad-libbing at times with his scripts.
“I had to Shaq-en up the phrases. Some of the things they sent me were too corporate — it wasn’t the way I talk.”Shaquille O’Neal
O’Neal’s voice costs $4.99 for customers in the United States. Amazon hopes the new celebrity voices add marketability to its line of Echo smart speakers and other devices. Additional revenue never hurts, either.
Shaquille O’Neal putting his spin on the project isn’t a surprise, given some of his past activities. Lending his voice to Alexa also gives the device the credibility of an O’Neal endorsement. He is renowned for not endorsing products simply to get a check.
More than a decade into retirement, Shaquille O’Neal is still a fan favorite
Even though Shaquille O’Neal played his last NBA game in May 2011, he still resonates with fans. From his collection of nicknames to the popular Shaqtin-a-fool segment on Inside the NBA, O’Neal was a sensation from the moment he entered the NBA.
After going first overall in the 1992 NBA draft to the Orlando Magic, O’Neal took the league by storm. Nearly every road game sold out, and he was a near-unanimous Rookie of the Year selection (Alonzo Mourning got two of the 98 votes).
He was a no-doubt Hall of Famer the first year he was eligible in 2016. With a resume that includes an NBA MVP award, four championships, two scoring titles, three Finals MVP awards, 14 All-NBA bids, and three All-Defensive selections, it’s hardly a surprise.
What might be a surprise is that after all these years, Shaquille O’Neal retains his popularity.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.