Community//

NBA Legend Shaquille O’Neal: My professor gave me an F because he couldn’t see my vision; If I’d listened to him, who knows where I’d be today

Dream Big. To make it to the top, you have to set the bar high. While it’s taken me decades to make it to where I am today, none of it would have been possible if I hadn’t pursued my dreams. When I was in college my marketing professor asked us to create a brand […]


Dream Big. To make it to the top, you have to set the bar high. While it’s taken me decades to make it to where I am today, none of it would have been possible if I hadn’t pursued my dreams. When I was in college my marketing professor asked us to create a brand that people would want to buy. I came back to class with Shaq shoes, socks, a Shaq shirt, everything. My professor gave me an F because at the time, he couldn’t see my vision. If I’d listened to him, who knows where I’d be today.


I had the great pleasure of interviewing Shaquille O’Neal. Shaquille O’Neal is a four-time NBA Champion and three-time NBA Finals MVP. The retired, 15-time NBA All-Star was named as both one of the highest ranked athletes in the NBA and most influential in sports. With a PhD in Leadership and Education, this iconic marketing and social media marvel is ranked among the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company Magazine. As a celebrity, athlete, business professional and comedian, O’Neal has an enormous and devoted fan base across a variety of demographics. Visit Shaq.com; follow @Shaq on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to your career path?

When I was young my dad took me to a Knicks game to watch Dr. J play. I was a huge fan of his and when I saw him drive baseline and throw it down, the crowd went wild. I turned to my dad and said, “That’s what I want to do.”

What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?

To me success isn’t an end goal, it’s a state of mind I strive to achieve every day. There will always be challenges, but the key is to learn and grow from those obstacles. The most important thing is to surround yourself with the best team you can find.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

My mom has had the biggest impact on my life. She is the strongest and most courageous person I have ever known. She is always the first person I will call for advice.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Are you working on any meaningful or exciting non profit projects?

In 1992 I got a call from my mom. She told me she was leaving the Boys & Girls Club and not one of the kids was getting a toy for Christmas. She sounded very upset, so I told her that I would take care of it. I called Uncle Jerome, rented a U-Haul and just wiped Toys R’ Us out. Filled the truck with toys. I’ve been doing something similar every year since. This past year I partnered up with Zappos For Good and was able to give toys away in three different cities. We are excited to expand on this relationship and hopefully one day, be able to give away hundreds of thousands of toys a year.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

One little girl at our event a while back really stands out. You could tell that she was very emotional as she was waiting in line to receive her gift, but when it was her turn to come up on the stage, she completely lost it and broke down crying. She kept saying how much she appreciated what I was doing and how much the gift meant to her. She had the biggest smile on her face when she got off the stage. I’ll never forget that.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be smart with your money. Within an hour of getting my first big check, I spent a million dollars. I bought myself a car, my mom and dad cars, jewelry, clothes. It’s important to learn while you’re young to save a portion of your income and allow it to grow. Even if you don’t have much to begin with, every penny adds up.
  2. Education matters. I went back to school multiple times, both during my NBA career and afterwards. And, I’m better for it. Education imparts self-discipline, opens your mind up to a world of shared knowledge, and for many, it can help you find a new passion.
  3. Stay true to yourself. I make business decisions based on a lot of different factors, but I only work with companies and products I genuinely like. After my first championship, a cereal brand approached me and wanted to put my face on their box. Even though it was an honor to be asked, I said no. I had never eaten that cereal before. I grew up eating Frosted Flakes and Fruity Pebbles. So, I held out… After I won my second championship, I was approached by Fruity Pebbles. It was that much sweeter being the face of my childhood cereal.
  4. Dream Big. To make it to the top, you have to set the bar high. While it’s taken me decades to make it to where I am today, none of it would have been possible if I hadn’t pursued my dreams. When I was in college my marketing professor asked us to create a brand that people would want to buy. I came back to class with Shaq shoes, socks, a Shaq shirt, everything. My professor gave me an F because at the time, he couldn’t see my vision. If I’d listened to him, who knows where I’d be today.
  5. The last one is simple. Have fun.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I have always said that if we can get one celebrity to just take care of their city or territory, we can end up helping most of the people in need. I got LA, Atlanta, Vegas, and Orlando.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“Excellence is not a singular act; it’s a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.” — Aristotle

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

If I could have a meal with one person, it would be the late Muhammad Ali. When I was young and getting into trouble, my dad would show me clips of Ali and make me read his quotes. He would tell me, “Look, Muhammad Ali comes from the same background as you… If he can do it, you can do it.” He will always be a hero of mine.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Mike Ehrmann / Staff / Getty Images
Wisdom//

Shaq Shares How To Take A Challenging Past And Create A Better Future For Others

by Darrah Brustein
By Prometheus72/ Shutterstock
Wisdom//

Richard Branson, Shaquille O’Neal, Daymond John and Others Reveal What They Wish They Knew at 25 Years Old

by The Oracles
Community//

Do Athletes Make Great Entrepreneurs, Leaders and People?

by Nunzio Presta

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.