Shaquille O’Neal: A Celebrity for the New World
Boom! Boom! Boom! Whoooomp! Whoomp ta da whoomp! Boom! Boom!
Try to imagine a jackhammer just behind your left ear drilling into a slab of hot, greasy asphalt. The noise is so loud you can feel the air, thick with sandy particles of sound, blowing over you like jet-engine exhaust.
BOOM! BOOM! WHOOMP POW BOOOM!
It’s the bass line from Dr. Dre’s nasty anthem “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” blasting through a deck of 12 industrial-strength speakers in the back end of Shaquille O’Neals new toy, a customized Suburban (license plate: “Shaq-fu”). Shaquille is at the wheel of the burgundy Chevy, running a red light on a two-lane road a few miles from his house in a gated residential area just outside Orlando, Fla.
Whoomp! Here he is! Known to all simply as Shaq, the crown prince of the NBA is picking up speed as he heads toward the freeway.
“We’re boomin’!” Shaq exclaims. He’s also chatting with his girlfriend on his car phone, so accustomed to the din that he can sweet-talk her without turning the sound down a notch. After he hangs up, he turns his 7-foot-one-inch, 305-pound frame in my direction and offers a huge grin: “Whaddya think?” I tell him I can feel something melting in my inner ear.
One of Shaq’s favorite pastimes, boomin’ involves driving around Orlando considerably faster than the speed limit while blasting a selection of Shaq rap faves, everything from Da Lench Mob and Terminator X to A Tribe Called Quest.
It’s 3 p.m. on the day of Michael Jordan’s retirement, two days before training camp opens for Shaq’s team, the Orlando Magic, a lowly NBA expansion team until their prince arrived. So far, Shaq has put in a typical celebrity workday. It started with an 8 a.m. appearance on CBS This Morning, done at the local CBS affiliate, followed by a visit to another local station, where he chatted via satellite with a dozen local-TV reporters around the country. Then he rushed off to a book signing at a mall, followed by even more TV interviews — then a photo session.
At the mall, Shaq dutifully autographed 300 copies of Shaq Attaq!, which celebrates his rookie year in the NBA. By the time he left, he had gone through nine pens and collected a stack of business cards and brochures from people offering to tint his windows or landscape his back yard.
Here’s what else happened today: An Orlando Sentinel sports columnist complained that, so far, Shaq has “simply enjoyed being Shaq the celebrity.” USA Today’s NBA preview grumbled that the Magic star “did so much traveling this summer, he never had a chance to work on his game.” And just hours after the book signing, a caller on a local talk-radio show called Shaq a jerk for not signing a few hundred more books (although, in fact, it was the bookstore, not Shaq, that set the cutoff point).
Thus the necessity of boomin’. “When I’m stressed out, I get into my truck and pump up the volume,” Shaq says. “I get the boom going —1,900 watts — and I go riding around, just thinking, wondering what I want to do.
“When I get into a good beat,” he adds, “I get a smile, and then I get to laughing, and once I’m laughing, I’m OK. Rap and R&B are what saves me. It’s always been my stress reliever.”
With Jordan stepping out of the spotlight, there’s plenty of pressure in Shaq’s immediate future. Only 21, he has emerged as the NBA’s Grand Slammer, the Air Apparent, the league’s most heralded newcomer in more than a decade. Perhaps someday he’ll develop a crunch-time shot, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook or Wilt Chamberlain’s fall-away jumper. But for now, Shaq is most famous for his volcanic, backboard-shattering dunk. During the last season it was hard to go a week without seeing a highlight clip of Shaq slamming the ball through the hoop, punctuated with a ferocious ninja cry.
For knowledgeable fans, the dunk is a one-dimensional weapon, little more impressive than a good no-look pass. But for rambunctious young fans — the ones who pay $130 for sneakers — the Dunk, with its shuddering violence and sudden fury, is exactly the sort of display that makes instant phenoms.
It wasn’t until his senior year in high school that Shaq mastered the dunk. That’s when things started to happen. “It changed the way people played me,” he recalls with delight. “They started holding me and kicking me and triple-teaming me. They’d do anything so I wouldn’t dunk on ’em. It was so embarrassing for them.”
In his last two seasons of high-school ball, his team went 68-1. At Louisiana State University, he was hacked and attacked every game, yet he still found ways to be up among the nation’s leaders in rebounds and blocked shots. After his junior year, at 20, with nothing left to prove, he turned pro, signing a seven-year, $40 million contract with the Magic The day after the Magic picked O’Neal in the draft, when fans called the team’s offices, the phone system was playing the B-52v “Love Shack.” The pre-Shaq Orlando Magic had been a woeful 21-61; with Shaq, they went 41-41, narrowly missing the playoffs.
“Shaq gave us a presence, a sense of self-confidence,” says Magic general manager Pat Williams. “We used to think, ‘Maybe we can be respectable.’ We’d worry about the other teams. But now they have to worry about us.”
Tree of Life Mass Shooting Trial Begins With Victim's 911 Call
- Tree of Life Shooting