There are countless ways to describe the 7’1 retired NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal. And now, in addition to M.V.P. and M.B.A., Shaq can add the letters Ed.D. to his prestigious list of accolades. On Saturday, May 5, the four-time NBA championship winner will receive his doctorate in organizational learning and leadership with a 3.81 GPA from Barry University becoming the first NBA Player on the league’s list of the Top 50 Greatest Players of all time to do so. During a break from his duties as an NBA commentator for Turner Network Television (TNT), Dr. O’Neal chatted with EBONY about family, love and making history.
EBONY: Congratulations on your latest degree! You’ve now got your Bachelors from Louisiana State University, your MBA [from the University of Phoenix] and now your doctorate. What motivated you to return to school at this stage in your career?
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: Well, there are several reasons. The first reason is it always feels good to make my mother and father proud for something bigger than material gifts. As parents, you can be proud if your son can buy you a house or something like that but to take the time to further my education is something that really matters.
Secondly, I have six children. It sets a good example for them to see that their father’s at the top of academia as well as other fields. Third, I just wanted to continue my education for myself and challenge myself and earn the respect of a whole new group of people. I believe I’m the first NBA player to receive a doctorate, so I like to continue making history.
EBONY: Will your kids be at your graduation this weekend?
SO: No, it’s my daughter’s birthday this weekend, and I really wish I could be there for that instead, but they have plans, so I didn’t want to drag them out for this.
EBONY: You will graduate with an astonishing 3.81 GPA and your professors are singing your praises in the media. With everything that you’re involved in, how did you find the time to excel in the classroom?
SO: Thank you. Well, it’s not like I was getting a doctorate in something I wasn’t interested in. I was always thrust into leadership positions because of my status [as an NBA championship winner], but now if you want to be respected off the court, you have to know and understand what you’re talking about, and so I went out there and did the work. It was very strenuous, but I liked what I was doing and I knew my goal: I want to be the African-American [life coach and motivational speaker] Tony Robbins. People already know me as a leader as I was doing research and doing the homework it was intersecting with a lot of the things I was doing already, but now I have the degree behind it. It was fun.
EBONY: Moving forward, how do you plan on using your doctorate?
SO: Definitely as a practitioner in the business world. I’d also like to own a fortune 500 company. I’m working on owning a team and being a general manager of a team. If Sandy Carpenter wins his election [for sheriff] in Lake County, [Florida] I’ll probably be working there too [as a reserve police officer].
EBONY: Is there any team in particular you’re looking at?
SO: I’m looking to bring a team back to Newark.
EBONY: You’ve also just released an autobiography as well [Shaq Uncut: My Story], so congratulations on that. In your book, you go into great detail about the mistakes you made during your first marriage. Are you preparing to go into your second marriage [with reality star Nikki “Hoopz” Alexander], and if so what are the lessons you’re taking with you?
SO: Now, I’m not answering that, young lady! [Laughs] You almost had me! You almost had me.
EBONY: I had to ask!
SO: I know, I know. But you already know the answer!
EBONY: I do?
SO: You do!
EBONY: Well then congratulations on that too! You speak a lot about your children and what they mean to you. After such an incredibly storied and historic career, what do you hope your legacy will be, to them and to the world?
SO: At the tender age of 40, I’m just blessed to still be relevant. Philanthropically was created by my mother and athletically by my father and without them, I don’t know where I’d be, so I’d like people to remember that I listened to my parents, and I think all children should listen to their parents.
And I hope they remember me as someone not afraid to better myself. I would like to have a Rocky [Balboa] type of legacy: a regular person, a juvenile delinquent that everyone thought wasn’t going to make it, but did. Because education was stressed and because of the “No-Pass, No-Play” rule [passing grades being a requirement to play sports in school] my life changed around. I don’t really consider myself a basketball player that does business; I’m a businessman who also plays basketball. I always tell my children, you ain’t got to play [sports], you ain’t got to sing, you ain’t got to do anything but get an education. [Pursuing entertainment] is fine, but you won’t touch any of it until you get an education. I hope that sticks with them.