While still but an infant – his father, who struggled with addiction, ended up going to prison for drug possession. When his biological father was released, he signed parental rights over to the boy’s stepfather – a sergeant in the United States Army Reserves. During his early days in his hometown of Newark, he spent a great deal of time at the Boys and Girls Club of America which afforded him a safe haven while keeping him off of the streets.
Later, in Wildflecken, Germany where his father was stationed as a drill instructor, he was approached by a man who said “How long have you been in the service son?” – his response? “I’m too young for the service, sir – I’m only 13”. He stood 6′ 8″ tall at that point. The man who approached him had been touring Germany putting on basketball clinics – he was the head coach of Louisiana State University’s men’s basketball team. The coach was intrigued to say the least and quickly sought to meet the boy’s father, which he did.
The family transferred to San Antonio where the boy – despite his height – was cut from his high school basketball team. His father – ‘the Sergeant’ – had made the boy tough enough to battle through the setback. The coach stayed in touch offering encouragement along the way. Not only did the boy make the team the next year – he became a nationally known standout player. He led his team to the state championship as a senior and set records which stand to this day.
Upon graduating, he accepted a scholarship to play basketball at LSU. With a father who stressed education first, last and in between, it was not a surprise that he had the highest grade point average on his freshman team. He also was twice named the SEC player of the year, was a two time All-America and won the NCAA Adolph Rupp Award as the men’s basketball player of the year.
He was drafted as the number one overall pick the year he was eligible to move to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and became the rookie of the year. He went on to have a 19 year career in which his teams won four NBA championships – three of which he was named the series MVP. Fifteen times he was named an NBA All-star, and was named the All-star game MVP three times.
He is a two time Olympic gold medal winner and a World Champion. Add to that – Sports analyst. Singer/rapper. Actor. Businessman. EdD. Commercial spokesperson. Sheriff. This body of work is not what has made a fearless brand. All of this has been accomplished because Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal – Shaq – has built his fearless brand.
Fearless Brands embrace their passion, maximize their skills and live a life of relevance.
His first and middle names – Shaquille Rashaun – translate to “Little Warrior” –O’Neal is his mother’s maiden name. At 7′ 1″ and over 300 pounds there is nothing little about Shaq – but in many ways he certainly is a warrior. He fought through his high school college setback. He has continued his education with warrior- like tenacity – currently holding a doctorate, his next goal is obtaining a law degree.
In the NBA he played for six different teams. In each city he was able to become a fan favorite by being himself – a caring, funny, endearing personality who embraced every city as his own – at the same time being one of the great players the league has ever seen. A name like ‘Shaq’ is unique enough by itself but the list of nicknames for him – and because of him – is long and varied. Many have been self-created, others have come from the media and fans.
While still at LSU, he made a thunderous dunk in a big game and broke into a hip hop step he called the ‘Shaq-de-shaq’. He wore a hat embroidered with “I Am the Shaqnificent”. A common tactic to slow his game was for the opponents to intentionally foul him. This practice became known as ‘Hack-a-Shaq’.
Add to the list, the Big Aristotle, Superman, Shaq Daddy, the Big Baryshnikov, the Big Cactus (while in Phoenix), the Big Shamrock (while in Boston), Cake and Shaq Fu. All reflect unique attributes, associations or some point of relevance to Shaq, the media and the public.
While grounded in immense confidence, his many nicknames reflect his commitment to fun. Shaq scores high on the likeability index because he keeps things light and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Many think of his as “King Kong” but those that know him think differently. His college coach, Dale Brown (who Shaq calls the preacher), has said that he will always think of Shaq as ‘Bambi’.
While at LSU, a fan asked Brown if Shaq would make a call to her dying daughter. It was a game day. Shaq didn’t call – he went and sat with the girl for an hour. Another time he was asked to pose for a picture with a 4 year old dwarf – image the picture of the giant Shaq with the tiny child. He has visited the children at Our Lady of the Lake hospital in Baton Rouge every single year since he was a student. He recently announced that a new children’s hospital will be built in Baton Rouge and he has made an enormous financial donation to the initiative.
While we can’t learn from Shaq how to play basketball – we can learn from his actions how to build our own fearless brand.
Be authentic – There is only one Shaq. He knows it and embraces who he is. While a physical giant he still has the innocence and the devil-may-care attitude of a boy. On the set of TNT’s Inside the NBA he kids and plays practical jokes while offering keen and meaningful insights into the topic at hand. Shaq is Shaq – always.
Embrace your passion – While his basketball career speaks for itself, Shaq’s passion surfaces in many other areas. He pursued his love of music – his debut album Shaq Fu was certified platinum. He has acted in movies and TV ranging from Kazaam, to The Lego Movie and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He went through Police Academies in Los Angeles and Miami. Simply put, if Shaq has an interest – he pursues that passion.
Develop your skills – Shaq’s academic pursuits make this point – as do so many of his endeavors.
Pass the ‘So What?’ test – Fans from six different NBA cities embraced him as a player – because he made himself relevant to them. He is a spokesperson for several companies and products because he relates to their audience. Shaq understands the necessity of being relevant.
So what do you have in common with a seven foot NBA Hall of Fame player? More than perhaps you thought. It all has to do with the basic elements of building your fearless brand – as Shaq has done. Embrace your passions – follow your dreams. Grow your skills. Walk in your value.