From afar, Shaquille O’Neal seems to have a rather perfect resume. The big man put together an incredible NBA career, winning championships and earning millions in the process. Even in retirement, the hits have kept on coming. Shaq has a seemingly endless parade of investments and endorsements, appears on TNT, and even dabbles in the music scene.
With all of that working in his favor, you might wonder why the living legend keeps appearing in commercials and taking on other jobs. At some point, doesn’t the financial compensation become irrelevant?
During a recent appearance on The Pivot Podcast, Shaq put things into perspective. Thanks to a painful divorce and an understanding of his responsibilities as a father, O’Neal isn’t going to take his foot off the gas.
Shaquille O’Neal explained that he works hard to provide for his family
If you’ve heard the stories about Shaq’s locker room antics, it’s easy to picture him as a giant kid laughing through life without a care in the world. In reality, though, that’s obviously not the case.
Over the years, we’ve seen O’Neal share some moments of humanity; think, for example, of his public reaction to the loss of Kobe Bryant. During a recent podcast appearance, the Diesel brought listeners into a painful chapter in his personal life.
“I never talk about this,” he explained on The Pivot Podcast when asked about his divorce. “I was bad. She was awesome. She really was. It was all me. I was just, look, we don’t need to talk about what I was doing, but I wasn’t protecting her and protecting those vows.”
As if that wasn’t candid enough, the big man also shared a painful memory about seeing his personal life change before his eyes.
“The best thing, for me, was coming home and hearing five, six different voices. Don’t matter if I missed 15 free throws, and we lost. They don’t care about that,” Shaq said. After the separation, though, things were different.
“I was lost. 76,000 square foot house, by yourself. Lost. No kids,” O’Neal continued. “Go to the gym, nobody playing in the gym. Go to their room, nobody’s there. You start to feel it, you know?”
From that painful experience, though, the NBA star decided to focus on his family. If nothing else, he was going to do his part to take care of them.
“I said to myself, ‘OK, you’re not married, but you still have to protect and provide for this family. Get your ass up. Man up. Let’s go. What you gonna do next?’ Cause, you know, [I] may not be a husband, but I’m always be a father. And the father’s job is to protect, provide, and love. I have two, I don’t like to use the term baby mamas, I have two wonderful women that have given me beautiful, gorgeous children. I have to protect, and I have to provide, and I have to love them forever. That’s why I work so hard. I don’t work for me, I got it all. I’ve got to work for them, I’ve got to work for my six babies.”
That strikingly human comment is important, coming from someone like Shaq
If you’re feeling cynical, you could write Shaq’s comments off as little more than a PR play. The big man, in theory, knew he had made a mistake and needed to put a friendly spin on things. If you’re willing to take the Diesel at his word, however, there’s something more important to be found.
Beyond his overall success, O’Neal was a physically dominant force; in many senses, he resembled a real-life superhero. His ability to speak so candidly about failures and emotional pain, even if he intentionally avoided saying he was depressed, provided a valuable example of a man being open about his struggles.
On a similar note, it’s also worth highlighting the big man’s willingness to take accountability and avoid making excuses for his actions. Again, he could have done things a bit better — he did dabble in gender roles, speaking of his partner’s physical attractiveness and insisting that, as a father, he had to be the provider — it was another net-positive example. Being a traditionally masculine man, if we follow Shaq’s example, doesn’t mean you can’t admit a mistake.
And, lastly, it’s worth highlighting the sheer humanity of the Lakers legend’s words. As previously mentioned, Shaq was a dominant athlete defined by his raw physicality. In retirement, he’s become an elder statesman on TNT, taking shots at modern players who don’t meet his standards. He also has millions of dollars in the bank, if you’re someone who believes that money can buy happiness.
It’s easy to forget that athletes are human beings. Look at Kyrie Irving during the Nets-Celtics series, for example. While the Nets’ guard hasn’t exactly done himself any favors, it’s still not right for him to be subjected to projectiles, racial abuse, or other hate that goes beyond booing. While many can write that off as the cost of doing business — in theory, big-time salary comes with scrutiny — it’s probably also connected to a perceived lack of humanity. On the whole, we look at athletes and see robots or gladiators, not humans.
As a TNT pundit, Shaquille O’Neal makes plenty of nonsensical, if not ignorant, statements. His comments on The Pivot Podcast, however, deserve to be praised.