What does Shaq have to do with football? Other than the fact that attending a game at Death Valley led him to commit to LSU, nothing.
But that doesn't mean the Big Aristotle didn't drop some seven-foot sized pearls of wisdom for coaches and players alike to learn from during his fireside chat (the NCAA's words, not mine) with NCAA president Mark Emmert at the organization's annual convention on Wednesday.
Shaq was introduced as the holder of a bacehlor's degree from LSU, a master's degree from the University of Phoenix and a PhD from Barry University. He briefly considered buying a law firm, but wanted to go to law school first because, "As a leader, you get the most respect from your employees if you've been through what they've been through."
Before managing a law firm was even the faintest possibility, O'Neal first had to be a student. "My three years at LSU were the best years ever," he said. "After I left LSU, that's when it became work. I always tell kids, 'Don't go after money.' If you didn't have much from 0-to-18 and you're 20, wait a year. You'll be surprised how much you can learn in a year."
What exactly is so advantageous about staying for that extra year, he says? "It's not about how much money you can make, it's the education you get that will help you keep it."
Two decades and four championships later, he is now the owner of 40 24 Hour Fitness operations and 155 Five Guys franchises. "General Eisenhower said the smartest people hire people smarter than them. That's what I've tried to do," O'Neal said. "You can't be a leader unless you're a great listener."
As a public figure for more than a quarter-century, O'Neal has successfully managed the tightrope walk of fame that so many others have failed to do. "I think we have a social responsibility to behave correctly and do the right thing," he explained. "My role model has always been my mother and father. I always wanted to be like Dr. J and Magic, but as a kid when I'd see a commercial saying not to do drugs, I couldn't call Dr. J and Magic and ask why. I'd call my father and asked why and he said 'Because I'll whoop your ass if you do.' That was a good answer."
To this day, O'Neal employs what he calls a "five-person panel", including his parents and former LSU coach Dale Brown. "I was a guy that, at 6'9" couldn't dunk a basketball. Coach Brown was the one guy that believed in me. Whenever I make a mistake, I'll get a call from someone on the panel."
The session closed with Shaq speaking about how he maintains a 'what you see is what you get' image, but, if you listen close enough, almost sounds like advice on how coaches should present themselves on the recruiting trail and in the locker room.
"I like to use the word 'real model'. There are certain types of people that play roles, and we figure out they're not who we thought they were. With me, what you see is what you get. There's a lot of guys selling fake products, and it will catch up with them. If you do create an image, you can't live up to it."