NBA legend and NBA on TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal brought his larger-than-life personality to the latest episode of “The Pivot Podcast” as he opened up for the first time about two regrets in his life: his divorce and not sufficiently reaching out to Kobe Bryant before his tragic death. Those topics and much more are examined in the new episode available now on the show’s YouTube channel.
After O’Neal praised the show for its ability to bring out new sides of its guests, O’Neal begins the episode by telling podcast co-hosts and former NFL stars Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor about how he tailors his life based on the same disciplined principles he was raised with by his stepfather Phillip Harrison.
“I was a high-level juvenile delinquent,” said O’Neal. “My dad’s only mission was to teach me to be a leader, not a follower. I started playing basketball because I watched the movie ‘The Fish Who Saved Pittsburgh’ and I loved Julius Erving in it. My dad saw that I wasn’t doing well in school, so he said, ‘if you do better in school, I’ll take you to see Dr. J.’ So we’re at Madison Square Garden, and Dr. J went up and dunked and the crowd went crazy. It was like the basketball gods entered me right then. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
O’Neal also makes sure to praise his mother Lucille throughout the episode, using her hard work while raising them as motivation and her happiness as his measuring stick for success.
“My definition of being rich is seeing a beautiful black woman, Dr. Lucille O’Neal, wake up, cook a hell of a breakfast, make sure we were fresh, take us to and pick us up from school, and make a hell of a dinner,” said O’Neal. “We would go buy a nice house and I could see in her eyes, that’s what she wanted. So my definition of being rich is being able to buy my mama whatever she wants…She’s the woman who sacrificed everything for me when we didn’t have nothing. Being able to get her whatever she wants, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
The conversation stays on family, giving O’Neal a chance to open up for the first time about his 2011 divorce from his ex-wife Shaunie, including the blame that he shoulders for the situation and how he eventually was able to motivate himself to move forward with his life.
“I never talked about this and I’m glad you guys asked, but I was bad,” explained O’Neal. “She was awesome and I was really bad. I wasn’t protecting her and I wasn’t protecting those vows. She did exactly what she was supposed to do.
“The best feeling was coming home and hearing five or six different voices. I was just being greedy. I had the perfect situation. Wife was finer than a mug. I had it all. I don’t make excuses. I know I messed up. I was lost. In a 76,000 square foot house by myself. Lost…I said to myself, you’re not married, but you still need to provide for this family. Get your ass up and man up. What are you going to do next?”
O’Neal was able to find that next step through his many ventures outside of basketball, including numerous investments that take up his time outside of his TNT duties. For O’Neal, he took a similar motivation from the basketball world into those business ventures.
“I like proving people wrong,” said O’Neal. “I like doing good business. I like meeting outstanding people and I just try to navigate positively in the world. I realized that if you started winning, you could walk into any restaurant and eat for free and do anything you want.”
Naturally, the discussion turns to basketball and specifically his early career with Penny Hardaway and the Orlando Magic. O’Neal initially tells a story of how he pushed Magic management to draft Hardaway, before explaining how the Hardaway situation turned into one of his few regrets.
“Penny and I were two young superstars who let other people get into our heads,” said O’Neal. “I was thinking we were the next Magic and Kareem. The problems started happening when people started say ‘who’s shit this was?’ Instead of being about the team…So when I got the Lakers contract, my agent told me Orlando wasn’t going to match, so I signed right there.
“I think if I slash we, didn’t have those egos, we could have worked that out. Because Penny was Kobe before Kobe. That’s something I always think about, because I could have stayed there, ended up there long term and owned a piece of the team.”
After O’Neal moved on to the Los Angeles Lakers, he endured a higher profile, more obligations and pressure. He tells the hosts about the unlikely source that helped him learn how to tune out the criticism that came with his high-profile position.
“When I was losing in L.A., I would get all of the flack and it made me go crazy,” said O’Neal. “The team had me meet with a nuclear physicist, his name was Burt, and he made me watch the movie ‘The Fan.’ The whole thing in that movie is that Wesley Snipes’ character just doesn’t care. So, Burt asked me why I cared so much what other people wrote and said? Once I stopped caring, I took off.
“He told me that I should have one hand stress. I only care about what my mama says, what my kids think, if it’s going to mess up the money and what my boys think,” continued O’Neal, while counting fingers. “If the nobody can influence the somebody, then the nobody wins.”
In discussing his time in Los Angeles, the group pushes O’Neal into talking about his time with Bryant, and how their rocky relationship was maintained enough for them to win three championships before O’Neal’s Lakers career ended in 2004.
“We’ll always go down as the most enigmatic, most dominant and controversial one-two punch, big and little, ever,” said O’Neal. “Let’s talk about it in street terms. I had the block for a long time, but there’s another kid with the potential to run the block and he wants your block. He always kept me on my toes. If he got 25 points, I have to get 40.
“Our relationship was perfect and not perfect. It was perfect because we made each other play at a certain level and we were able to win three titles. Did we get along all the time on the court? No, but that’s how it is in sports…As a leader, you either focus on the task or the relationship. As a leader, I focused on the task.”
That task led to those three-straight championships and legendary status as a team and as a duo. Despite the accomplishments that many predict they would have achieved had they stayed together longer, O’Neal claims that he wouldn’t have changed anything he did during their careers.
“People thought it was worse than it was, but it was just two brothers with differences of opinion. I always tell people, watch after we won that first championship. When I have my arms raised, who’s the first person that jumps into my arms? If we hated each other, how’d we have that moment? The thing that kept us going was the respect.”
For O’Neal, the regrets regarding his relationship with Bryant stem from after their playing careers. Never fully squashing the beef between the two legends is something that still haunts O’Neal to this day, exacerbated by Bryant’s untimely passing coming just days after his sister passed away.
“I wish we could have communicated more, because I still have sleepless nights,” said O’Neal. “I was hit with a double whammy, because my sister passed away first, right before Kobe. I’m quick to say, I have to go do this podcast, I’ll call him later, and then never do it.
“I called my guy at the sheriff office, he confirmed it, and I started crying. I’m like goddamnit, I didn’t even holler at him. We did the sit down that everyone was waiting for, and that’s the last time we talked. I didn’t get the number, I didn’t call him, I didn’t text him, and that still haunts me. All the shit we went through, we could have shook hands and put it aside…I think about it all of the time, I have pictures of him in my house that I see and…I just can’t sleep.”
As one of the most famous Lakers of all-time, O’Neal is also asked about the recent struggles of the team, who missed the playoffs this past season. Despite sporting superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, O’Neal believes there is much work that needs to be done to return the team to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers era glory.
“The only knock on LeBron is that they don’t fear him anymore,” said O’Neal. “He’s older, so these young guys like a Ja Morant, they don’t fear him. Then you have a guy like Davis, who’s supposed to be carrying them, and he’s in street clothes. You have to look at the people at the top. I really think they need to get some younger guys in there around LeBron.”
After some more conversation on the current state of the game, the podcast hosts ask a similar question to what they pose to all of their guests. Clark asks what O’Neal has learned from a defining moment or “pivot” in his life, ending the episode on another poignant note that goes beyond surface level with one of sports’ biggest stars, as O’Neal once again gives his mother props for being his guiding light morally.
“You just have to realize that just because things you do make you seem perfect, you’re not perfect,” said O’Neal. “That was a big mistake in my relationship with Penny, big mistake in my relationship with Kobe and a horrible mistake in both marriages. Other than that, I don’t really dwell on a lot…I’m glad that I’ve lived my life and I’ve done it my way.
“I’ll know that I’ve made a mistake when I get the call from the woman of my dreams, Dr. Lucille O’Neal. Then I’ll correct it. If she calls me and says ‘baby, don’t do that,’ I’ll correct it. But if I don’t get that call, it doesn’t matter to me.”