When I told someone I was reading Shaquille O'Neal's new autobiography they laughed and said: "Why? His life has been an open book." I had to chuckle. While it is true there is nothing particularly new here that hasn't been reported on, maybe numerous times, it's refreshing because it is clearly told in Shaq's voice and on his terms.
So what to say about Shaq Uncut? (I have to wonder if this isn't a play on words.)
For starters, as a general outline of his life story, he grew up with a stepfather in the Marines and lived a vagabond life, with a good part of his youth spent in Germany. He quickly grew to be oversized and wasn't particularly athletic but picked up basketball and made it his life's passion. Being in Germany wasn't particularly easy for him but he learned the rough and tumble of hardnosed basketball playing with adults. That, and probably from a good dose of tough discipline from his stepfather that can only be described as a little on the violent side.
As everyone knows Shaq went to Louisiana State University to play college basketball and found another father figure in coach Dale Brown. Three years later he was the number one pick in the NBA draft. After leading the Orlando Magic to the playoffs but never entering the promised land he eventually was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Los Angeles and the outsized body and ego of Shaq? What a match. But it took teaming up with the young phenomenon Kobe Bryant to win three NBA championships, and then the feud between the two of course. Fun stuff.
Shaq and Kobe couldn't coexist in the end, so Shaq headed to the Miami Heat to play second option to Dwayne Wade to win another NBA Championship.
All the while making rap albums, playing in movies, and being a cultural icon.
So what did I learn about Shaq in this book?
First he has big ego and is very immature. But there is a very endearing aspect to this. Not only does he admit it, he seems to relish in his immaturity. And makes no apologies for it, nor should he. He admits to being somewhat of a bully as a kid. He talks about going into a car dealership to buy a Benz but if another sports star has bought one, he has to buy two just to one up them. The oddest story is where he had $200,000 worth of quarters from a string of car washes he owned mounted on his wall because he "likes to see his money." His lifelong trusted agent/accountant started looking for the missing money and wondered where it went and ultimately found out.
And that personality feeds into his feud with Kobe. He describes it as two alpha males who can't coexist. He doesn't trash Kobe at all in this book, but instead seems to admire him. Placing the feud into the context of two big egos, two alpha males on the same team, which just isn't going to work, puts the entire episode in context. And he really lets Kobe off the hook a bit, because Shaq proved he can be a team player in Miami.
A second thing I learned is that Shaq is pretty smart. While he spends lavishly, he invested wisely and found a trusted adviser who had his back. There are plenty of examples of stars who made nearly as much as Shaq that went broke by overspending, bad investments, and stupidity. Not Shaq, clearly.
Third, despite the ego, Shaq has a big heart. While it is in his own words, he talks about spending money on charity as his way to give back and sometimes his spending is impetuous and not maybe the wisest decision. Most sports fans will recall when Shaq paid for George Mikan's funeral. Who is George Mikan? The first big man in the 1940's and 1950's who helped carry the NBA. Some say the first great big man. Nobody asked him to do it. He just found out that the family was in financial trouble and volunteered to pay for the funeral. There is a brief mention of this in the book, but the episode is well documented.
Fourth is Shaq's self-awareness. He did rap and movies because he always dreamed of it. Part of that ego, but really part of his childhood dreams he lived out. He admits he's not the best actor or rapper, but he notes that if you have the money and the celebrity to live out a childhood dream, why wouldn't you do it? He got great pleasure from both endeavors, so why not?
And the player he thinks is the greatest besides himself? Tim Duncan. It was refreshing to see Shaq recognize someone else for greatness.
There may be nothing new here, but Shaq tells his story, in his own words, and that is what makes it interesting.
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About the reviewer
Doug Baker (cdbaker)
Avid reader and football fan.
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Shaq was the most unique player in the history of the NBA. He was bigger than life in every way. The dominant game, the dominant personality, his work behind the scenes for charity...nobody has done more for our game than Shaq.
(Hall of Famer Larry Bird)
Shaq was more confident in his skin than anyone else of his stature. There's a warmth to him that is unmistakable. At the same time, he was the scariest player I've ever seen. He was that dominant. I've had a number of great relationships with great players, but he's the one who will always stand out in my mind. (Hall of Famer Jerry West )
He's the most dominant player I've ever seen. His presence, his physicality, his size and his speed made him an athletic phenomenon. He could run, he could move, he had unbelievable hands and he never got enough credit for being a great passer. He was one of a kind. (Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers)
Shaq's a wonderful person and he's been one of the greatest players ever. He understood the game; dealing with the fans, dealing with the press. .. Great, great player, a great, great personality.
(Hall of Famer Charles Barkley)
What a career for Shaq Diesel!! The most dominating force to ever play the game. Great person to be around as well. Comedy all the time!! (LeBron James, via Twitter)
He's a giant. He's physically imposing; he has an imposing smile. In the game, he imposed his will, and he has done it for quite a long time. It's been a great run here, and we're going to miss him greatly. We ...