When you think of Shaquille O’Neal, one of two specific visions probably springs to mind. If you remember the Big Aristotle as a player, you’ll flashback to his dominant low-post play and backboard-breaking dunks; if you’re newer to the basketball scene, you’ll most likely think of him cracking jokes and teasing Charles Barkley on TV. Either way, Shaq is, quite literally, a larger than life figure.
Even Shaquille O’Neal, however, wasn’t immune to the challenges of 2020. With the year coming to a close, though, the big man did share an important lesson that he learned amid all of the unpleasantness.
Shaquille O’Neal is a living NBA legend
These days, conventional back-to-the-basket big men have mostly become a thing of the past. During his prime, though, Shaquille O’Neal would have been able to perform in any era of basketball.
After dominating on the high school and college scenes, O’Neal entered the NBA as the first-overall pick of the 1992 draft and promptly claimed Rookie of the Year honors. While the big man found plenty of individual success in Orlando, the team couldn’t get over the hump; that all changed, of course, in 1996.
With the Lakers, Shaq formed a formidable one-two punch with Kobe Bryant; the pair would win three championships before parting ways. O’Neal won another ring in Miami and saw out the rest of his career with the Suns, Cavs, and Celtics.
The big man’s success, however, has continued far beyond the basketball court. In addition to his media work, the Big Aristotle has turned into quite the businessman; he’s involved with everything from Google to Papa John’s and has built up an estimated $400 million fortune.
2020 featured two painful deaths
Based on his fame, fortune, and generally fun-loving personality, it’s tough to imagine anything bothering Shaquille O’Neal too much. 2020, however, proved that even the biggest celebrity can still be shaken by tragedy.
In January, Kobe Bryant died in a shocking helicopter crash. While the two men didn’t always see eye-to-eye, Shaq was clearly shaken by the loss of his former teammate.
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” O’Neal explained on TNT. “People always ask about our relationship, and I tell them it’s just like me and Charles [Barkley]. You got two strong-minded people that are going to get it done that way. You’re going to say certain things, [but] the respect will never be lost. When it comes to being inside the lines and winning, that’s what me and him did.”
To make matters worse, Shaq’s sister, Ayesha Harrison-Jex, died at the tail end of 2019; she had been battling cancer and was only 40-years old.
Shaquille O’Neal will take an important lesson away from a painful 2020
Like just about everyone else, Shaquille O’Neal probably can’t wait for 2020 to come to an end. The big man won’t just throw the entire year into the garbage bin, though; he’ll move forward having learned an important lesson.
“Well before I lost Kobe, I lost my sister,” O’Neal explained on CBS Sports’ All Things Covered podcast. “I learned that if you have something to say to somebody, say it. I was so busy working, trying to take care of family, just trying to, you know, continue to build business, that I only got to see my sister four or five times last year.”
While Shaq explained that he moved his family closer to him so that he can see them with ease, he also wished that he could have kept in better contact with Kobe Bryant.
“We definitely should have communicated more,” the big man continued. “You know, at least once a week — ‘What are you doing? Hey, what’s up!’ We’re so busy doing our thing, trying to take care of us, after we leave the field and after we leave the court we go our separate ways. And that’s understandable, too. I just wish I could have said something to him.”
That’s a lesson we can all stand to learn, no matter what the future holds.