Shaq: “I was a straight bum: Thirteen, 6’9″, no confidence, couldn’t play at all”

Shaquille O’Neal spent a part of his youth in Wildflecken, Germany. Shaq’s father was a drill sergeant and was deployed to Europe, and the family went with him. O’Neal credits his father for a lot of his success – installing the values of discipline and hard work that helped him not only be one of the best NBA players ever but having one of the most successful post-playing careers ever.   

“At that point that I was a straight bum: Thirteen, 6’9″, no confidence, couldn’t play at all. Thought I’d probably never be able to play, so I’ll just join the Army like my father.”

Shaquille O’Neal, Esquire

Life on an Army base is structured as is, but having a drill sergeant as a father only made that more pronounced. Wake up, chores, school, chores – that’s how Shaq summed up his life. Then one day, his father told him a college basketball coach was giving a speech on base and he should go listen. 

“So one day I go and he asks me, “How long have you been in the Army?” And I told him I’m not in the Army, I’m only 13. So from that day on he’d send me letters and send me moves on pieces of paper.”

Shaquille O’Neal, Esquire

That coach was Dale Brown from LSU. The two numbers Shaq said were enough: thirteen, 6’9”. The size alone gets you a scholarship, and Shaq had a lot more than size. Soon enough a lot of colleges knew about Shaquille O’Neal and wanted him to join their program. But, Shaq stuck with Coach Brown and LSU.

“The reason why I went to LSU is because coach Brown offered me a scholarship when I was nobody. Actually, I wanted to go to Georgetown, because I wanted to be like Patrick Ewing, but they never sent me [an offer] letter.”

Shaquille O’Neal, Esquire

O’Neal never regretted it and speaks of coach Brown as a second father. Shaq said he only two other coaches that could compare to coach Brown and those are Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. That’s nice company to be in. Shaq’s mark on LSU was so strong that they revealed a statue in his honor in front of their training facility. All thanks to a speech in Wildflecken, Germany. 

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