You are here

Q&A: Shaquille O’Neal Slam Dunks Fatherhood

Getty Images

Rapper and film star Shaquille O’Neal is also known to have dabbled in basketball. We kid! Still, it's Shaq's current role as an involved father that grabbed our attention when the retired NBA all-star was on hand to co-host a Tupperware event to boost awareness for the Boys and Girls Club.

The four-time league champion, who recounts his childhood in the memoir “Shaq Uncut,” credits the club with keeping him off the rough streets of Newark, NJ, and keeping serious about basketball. 

The child of an abusive father, O'Neal holds no grudges against the man who would regularly discipline him. But in this interview with Parenting, he says he has opted for a gentler approach with his own five kids. It must be working: earlier this year the National Father’s Day Council dubbed him father of the year. “I’ve won a lot of awards. You know, I got an Oscar for Kazaam,” he joked at the time about his cinematic debut. “But this award is among the most prestigious.”

What were you like as a child?

I grew up in a really rough area in Newark, NJ, right around the time the drug game got heavy. A lot of people in my building were involved; a lot of people I knew were involved. My father always told me to be a leader and not a follower. But I was a mid-level juvenile delinquent, stealing candy bars, beating people up. Young stuff.

How does one get from there to being a champion?

The day that changed my life was my father told me ‘if you do well in school, I got a surprise for you.’ I came home with a couple A’s, a couple B’s. So we jump on a train and go to New York. We get to madison square garden and we don’t have good seats. But I got to see my man Dr J. He threw it down. I said “that’s what I want to do.” And my father said “if that’s what you want to do, get an education, stay out of trouble and go work on your game. We don’t have money for babysitters. So when you get out of school, go to the Boys and Girls Club around the corner and stay there until one of us picks you up.”

How did that help?

When you’re at the Boys and Girls Club, you don’t see that stuff on the outside; you’re not subjected to it.

You’re teamed up with Tupperware for this event. Seems like an odd pairing. Did you cook much as a kid?

No never. I was lucky growing up; I got 5 sisters. We had a business arrangement: they said “you keep us from the bullies, we’ll make you sandwiches.”

How did the experience of having so many sisters affect you, especially as a parent?

Pretty good. I grew up watching them. I lived a “Karate Kid”-style life: from New Jersey to Germany. So I get along with everybody. As a father, I’ve got to worry about temptations [for my kids]; I’ve got to worry about drugs. But not gangs.

How do you manage that?

When it comes to being a hard parent, my knob is turned all the way down. I’m a friend first. I raise my children like I run my businesses: I don’t micromanage.

Any advice to dads?

Listen to your kids.

This sounds a bit softer than your own father. You’ve written about some of the physical abuse there growing up.

My dad was a disciplinarian. I’m glad he did it. It turned me into a well rounded individual. But again with my children, I won’t be that hard on them. If my son gets a C I tell him, you better pick up your game. He knows his dad is disappointed and he’ll work harder.

How’s his free-throw?

It’s good. You know I shot 50 percent and everybody talks about how bad I was. It’s not like it was 30 or 40 percent. Fifty percent! That’s one in two. One-in-two, people!