NBA

Shaquille O’Neal Said a Geek Saved His Life When He Was in High School

Shaquille O’Neal admits he was a bully growing up. O’Neal, who played in the NBA at 7-foot-1, 325 pounds, was always the much bigger kid in school and he, too, was bullied because of his size. The former Los Angeles Lakers center’s insecurities led to him intimidating others. He also had very low self esteem as a kid until one scrawny kid, only known as McDougal, helped out The Diesel.

Shaquille O’Neal’s basketball career

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Shaquille O’Neal played his college basketball at LSU, terrorizing opponents with his strong inside game. O’Neal went on to become the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic. He spent 19 seasons in the NBA, the first four in Orlando.

The man they call Shaq made most of his noise in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers. Teaming up with a young Kobe Bryant, the Lakers put together a great run, winning three straight championships between 2000-2002. During the 1999-00 season, O’Neal was named the league’s MVP when he led the league with a 29.7 scoring average and also pulled down 13.6 rebounds per game.

O’Neal played eight seasons with the Lakers, making the NBA All-Star team seven times. He went on to play three-plus seasons with the Miami Heat, where he was an all-star each season. During his career, Shaq led the league in shooting percentage 10 times. He was a 15-time NBA All-Star and led the league in scoring twice. O’Neal was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Shaq went from being a bully to becoming the class clown

Shaquille O’Neal said kids in school always made fun of him because of his size. In a 2015 interview with Graham Bensinger, he said he had two options back then. “I had to figure out two things,” O’Neal said, “either intimidate you or make you laugh. I was always a bully until one day in fifth grade.

“One day, I had a spit wad and I threw it at the chalkboard. It splattered and this kid rats me out. Prior to that, my father said, ‘If you get suspended again, I’m gonna kill you. I’m going to beat you like you’ve never been beaten before. You’re irresponsible and you’re a medium-level juvenile delinquent.’ I go to the office. Three days (suspended) and now I gotta go home and I already know what I’m getting when I get home. But before I go home, I’m gonna whoop your ass.

“So I’m beating this kid up and I’m kicking this kid and he has an epileptic seizure. It’s just me and the kid and he’s on the ground shaking. Now, I’m frightened. A guy comes and saves the kid. I got home and got disciplined and my mother said, ‘You’re too big and too strong. You can’t ever do that again.’ That kinda stayed with me. I didn’t want to do that anymore. Let me go to Plan B. I was always the class clown, funny guy. So I just stuck with that rather than being a bully.”

Shaq: ‘nerds and geeks are very cool people’

Between getting made fun of because of his size and some not-so-great grades, Shaquille O’Neal‘s self-esteem wasn’t very high in school. He stuttered when he talked and was called names like Sasquatch and Big Dummy. He was always fearful when test scores came back, knowing he wouldn’t usually do well.

“I would look at you and your test scores,” he told Graham Bensinger. “You would probably get a 90 or an 80. I was intimidated by that. I’m not that smart and I can’t do that. Always had self-doubts. I just never thought I could do it – anything. A geek saved my life. Junior year in high school, right before the state tournament, I got a 68 and I had one test left.

“Everybody was bullying this guy. He was cool. He never said anything. We called him McDougal. I wish I could remember his name. Everyone was messing with him so I came in and said if you mess with McDougal, you gotta mess with me. I was sitting at the lunch table and he came to me and said he appreciated it. He said, ‘I hear you’re having some problems in government. I can help you out.’ Every day after school, he would tutor me. The way he tutored me, I was like this really isn’t that bad. Because I had self-doubts, I was like I’ll never pass anyway. He helped me out and that’s when I realized that nerds and geeks are very cool people. It also taught me another valuable lesson that you don’t always have to judge people.”

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.