Shaquille O'Neal Biography

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Birth Name: Shaquille O'Neal
Born: 03/06/1972
Birth Place: Newark, New Jersey, USA

Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal was born on March 6, 1972, in Newark, NJ to father, Joseph Toney, and mother, Lucille O'Neal. The scion of a prominent Newark family, Toney named his son after an Arabic expression for Little Warrior. An All-Star high school basketball player, Toney attended Seton Hall on an athletic scholarship, but his further education and adult life were derailed when he became addicted to drugs. Arrested for his part in a check-forging scheme in December 1972, Toney entered a federal prison early the next year, relinquishing custodianship of his infant son to the baby's new stepfather, Phillip Harrison. A sergeant in the Army Reserves, Harrison relocated with wife Lucille and her son to Bavaria, where he was stationed as a drill instructor at the U.S. Army Training Base in Wildflecken. Bitter about his parents' divorce and his father's abandonment, O'Neal developed into a troubled youth who was disrespectful of authority, engaged in frequent fights, and dabbled in petty crime before finding an outlet for his aggression in shooting hoops. At the age of 13, O'Neal was scouted by Dale Brown, a coach for Louisiana State University, who was in Germany to teach a basketball clinic and mistook the already 6'6" O'Neal for an enlisted man. Brown expressed his desire to recruit O'Neal for the LSU team, even though the youth still had two more years of high school to complete.

Finishing his primary education in the United States at Robert G. Cole High School in San Antonio, TX, O'Neal led the basketball team to a 68-1 win/loss record, helping it to achieve state championship status before his graduation in 1989. Under the mentorship of Dale Brown at Louisiana State, O'Neal was named a two-time All-American athlete and awarded the Adolph Rupp Trophy as the National Collegiate Athletic Association's player of the year in 1991. Dropping out of college his senior year to go pro with the National Basketball Association, the now 7'1" O'Neal was drafted by Florida's Orlando Magic. In 1993, he was named Rookie of the Year and was the first rookie named an All-Star starter since Michael Jordan in 1985. O'Neal's first season in the NBA also benefited from the tutelage of former Los Angeles Laker Earvin "Magic" Johnson. After an impressive four years with Orlando, O'Neal shifted to the LA Lakers as a free agent, which he later helped achieve three consecutive championships. O'Neal's impressive physical presence and penchant for colorful nicknames - Shaq, The Diesel, Shaque Fu and Big Daddy - made him a natural for pop culture canonization. He made his feature film debut playing himself in Tamra Davis' music industry satire "CB4" (1993), but had more to do as an athletically gifted but academically challenged college basketball player in Paramount's drama "Blue Chips" (1994), directed by William Friedkin. Before the film's theatrical release, O'Neal recorded a rap album. Debuting on the Jive Records label, Shaq Diesel was designated platinum in March 1994 and yielded the hit single "(I Know I Got) Skillz," which charted at No. 35 on Billboard's Hot 100 and rose to No. 3 on the Rap Singles chart. O'Neal would cut three more original albums, all certified gold or platinum, as well as a greatest hits album in 1996.

In Hollywood, O'Neal starred in Disney's "Kazaam" (1996), as a genie who helps an inner city youth evade bullies and reconnect with his absentee father. A box office non-starter, "Kazaam" was also raked over the coals by critics both for the paucity of its imagination and for O'Neal's awkward star turn. He fared no better in the superhero adventure "Steel" (1997), based on the DC Comic. Sporting a heavy metallic costume that made him look more like Robocop than Superman, the 300 pound O'Neal was branded "ungainly" by The New York Times, which deemed the feature "a tepid vat of cinematic sludge." He appeared again as himself in both Brian Robbins' fast food comedy "Good Burger" (1997) and Spike Lee's worthier family drama "He Got Game" (1998). During this period, O'Neal twice led the American Dream Team to gold medal glory, but after participating in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, he declined further invitations to complete internationally.

Back on the basketball court, O'Neal formed a winning combination with fellow Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, although the relationship between the players degraded into a highly publicized feud. In 2000, O'Neal returned to Louisiana State University to complete his education, partly due to a promise made to his mother when he joined the NBA in 1992. He won the NBA's Most Valuable Player award for the 1999-2000 season. After making brief appearances in the comedies "Freddy Got Fingered" (2001) and "The Wash" (2001), O'Neal appeared with Lucille O'Neal in "Apple Pie" (2002), a documentary focusing on extraordinary athletes and their mothers. Injuries and inflated salary requests during the 2002-03 NBA season resulted in O'Neal parting with the Lakers to join the Miami Heat. After an exceptional first year, O'Neal signed a five-year extension contract for $100 million and led the Heat to its first championship in 2006.

An unexpected career development for O'Neal was his interest in law enforcement. After attending the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's Reserve Academy, he became a reserve officer with the L.A. Port Police. In 2005, he was named an honorary U.S. Deputy Marshal. During his time in Miami, he completed training to join the beach patrol at an annual salary of $1. In 2007, he hosted "Shaq's Big Challenge," an ABC reality TV series in which he worked with six obese middle school children from Florida's Broward County to get in shape. Though the series was unilaterally praised by critics, "Shaq's Big Challenge" was routinely crushed in the ratings by the highly-rated "America's Got Talent" (NBC, 2009- ). Plagued by injuries and advancing age, O'Neal sat out more games than he played through the next two seasons. By the time he was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2008, Miami was the most poorly-rated team in the league. He did not participate in the 2009 playoffs and was traded that year to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Averaging career lows in almost every category, he was shifted once again to the Boston Celtics for his final season as an NBA player. He played only a peripheral part in the 2011 playoffs, during which the Celtics were eliminated by the Miami Heat. During this time, O'Neal starred with his wife and five children in a pilot for a proposed reality TV show, "Love Shaq" (A&E, 2009), which never went to series. In June 2011, O'Neal announced his retirement from professional basketball, after 19 years in the NBA.

By Richard Harland Smith