In high school, Shaquille O’Neal went from being a bully to embarking on the class-clown route. During his interview with Graham Bensinger, he talked about the two moments that prompted that change.
“I was a different person from that day”
Today, O’Neal is one of the most popular public figures out there. But growing up, he was an object of ridicule. Kids used to make fun of Shaq for his size, calling him names like Shaquilla the Gorilla or Shaqueer. That left him with two options — “either intimidate you or make you laugh.” And for a long time, Shaq would pick option one, until one day in fifth grade and the moment that changed him forever.
“I was about thirteen, and this guy ratted me out for throwing something in class,” Shaq said to Cal Fussman. “I caught up with him after school and beat him up. When the kid went down, I kicked him. Then he started having an epileptic seizure. A man ran out of his car and put something in the kid’s mouth, and got him to stop. If that guy hadn’t come, the kid might have died, and I’d have been done, done, done. I was a different person from that day on.”
How a geek saved Shaq’s life
All the mocking took a toll on Shaq, who had already struggled with his performance in school. It resulted in O’Neal having low self-esteem and thinking he was not smart enough. That’s when he had another eye-opening moment, one Diesel himself described as life-saving. And all thanks to a geek from his high school.
Everybody was bullying this guy. He was cool. He never said anything. We called him McDougal. I wish I could remember his name. Everyone was messing with him so I came in and said if you mess with McDougal, you gotta mess with me.Shaquille O’Neal, Graham Bensinger
Instead of beating the ones he didn’t like, Shaq put his size to good use, only to intimidate those who were bullying McDougal. And despite wanting nothing in return, the kid gave O’Neal one of the most valuable lessons that he remembers to this day.
“I was sitting at the lunch table and he came to me and said he appreciated it,” Shaq continued. “He said, ‘I hear you’re having some problems in government. I can help you out.’ Every day after school, he would tutor me. The way he tutored me, I was like this really isn’t that bad. Because I had self-doubts, I was like I’ll never pass anyway. He helped me out and that’s when I realized that nerds and geeks are very cool people. It also taught me another valuable lesson that you don’t always have to judge people.”
Both of these instances helped Shaq become the man he is today. And not just in terms of basketball, but through everyday life and countless mind-blowing gestures for the people he doesn’t even know. The upstroke is the ultimate larger-than-life persona, universally loved outside of the game itself. But based on stories like these, it wasn’t an easy road getting there.