Shaquille O’Neal Changed His Mindset on Life and Knew He Wanted to Become an NBA Player After Watching Julius Erving Dunk on the Knicks

Shaquille O’Neal was born in Newark, New Jersey, and played his high school basketball at Cole in San Antonio, Texas. After a dominant stint in college at LSU, O’Neal got drafted with the first overall pick by the Orlando Magic in 1992.

O’Neal is recognized as the most dominant player in NBA history. During his prime, Shaq was unguardable in the post and averaged a double-double 13 years in a row.

While his stepdad was the most important male figure in his life growing up since his biological father wasn’t around, Shaquille O’Neal decided to pursue a basketball career because of Hall of Famer Julius Erving.

Shaquille O’Neal’s stepdad made The Big Aristotle who he is

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Shaquille O’Neal’s late stepdad made The Big Aristotle who he is. Growing up in a military house, O’Neal learned about respect and discipline at a young age from his stepdad.

Some people may not know that O’Neal was a big trouble maker growing up. He referred to himself as a “juvenile delinquent” when he spoke to
Graham Bensinger in 2015. It appeared that Shaq didn’t have a bright future ahead of him.

However, everything changed for Shaquille O’Neal when his stepdad got him an autographed basketball from Julius Erving and took him to a New York Knicks-Philadelphia 76ers game.

Shaquille O’Neal got his mind right and focused on basketball after watching Julius Erving

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Shaquille O’Neal’s stepdad got tickets to a Knicks-Sixers game at Madison Square Garden. Julius Erving was O’Neal’s favorite player, so The Diesel was excited to see Dr. J play in person.

When Erving went baseline on a play and dunked the ball, the entire crowd at MSG went crazy. It was at that exact moment when O’Neal knew he wanted to be in the NBA.

“Dr. J goes baseline, throws it down, crowd goes crazy. That’s when I said OK, that’s what I want to do,” O’Neal told Graham Bensinger. “I’m a changed man. From that day on, no more juvenile delinquent, try better in school, stayed out of trouble. Like, I knew I wanted to be a rapper, but when Dr. J went baseline, and the crowd went crazy, I was like, ‘I want that.’ I want people to scream my name.”

It sounds like Shaquille O’Neal would have never pursued a basketball career had he not been inspired by Julius Erving. NBA fans should thank Dr.J and O’Neal’s late stepdad for keeping a young Shaq’s head on a swivel.

The big man is one of the best centers in NBA history

Shaquille O’Neal played in 1,207 games in the NBA. He averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds while shooting 58.2% from the field. Shaq won three titles, three Finals MVPs, and one regular-season MVP with the LA Lakers.

In 2006, O’Neal won his fourth title on the Miami Heat thanks to Dwyane Wade. The 15-time All-Star was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016 and has his number retired by both the Lakers and Heat.

What if Shaquille O’Neal never saw Julius Erving play at MSG? He may have continued to be a trouble maker and head down a dangerous path. Basketball fans are fortunate O’Neal got his life together because he was a joy to watch in the NBA.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.