SPRINGFIELD – After 19 years in the NBA, wearing down every big man the league threw at him for almost two decades, Shaquille O’Neal spent the 2012 season off the court.
But that doesn’t mean the recent retiree lacked for things to do.
Shaq quickly became a part of the broadcast team at Turner Sports, waxing poetic on the NBA before, during and after games alongside Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson and a number of regular guest analysts. On top of several additional business ventures, O’Neal also finds time to give back, which is what he’s doing this weekend while hosting the Shaquille O’Neal Life Skills Golf Classic at Carter Plantation in Springfield, La., 30 miles outside of Baton Rouge.
While making the turn to the back nine, O’Neal spoke to reporters and laughed off the notion that he misses playing the game that made him a star.
“No, not at all,” O’Neal replied. “I don’t miss it because I was so used to playing at a super-high level. So when it went from a super-high level to a high level, that didn’t feel right to me. Then when it went from a high level to a just-like-everybody-else level, I knew it was time to go.”
The four-time world champion, who made 15 All-Star teams and was named First-Team All-NBA eight times, said he’s actually busier now that he ever was during his playing days.
“I’m busier now. I’ve always had the plan to be able to have something to fall back on, and I’ve put all this stuff in motion since ’92,” explained O’Neal. “Now it’s just coming to fruition. Like I tell all the players, ‘It’s good to have nice relationships.’ It doesn’t matter how you play or what you do, without relationships nothing is possible.”
Another thing that’s occupied O’Neal’s time is the children’s hospital he plans to build in Baton Rouge, a move the big man first announced over the summer during his induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
On Friday O’Neal spoke about the process of turning that dream into a reality but said there are no specific updates to provide at the moment.
“I don’t want to give any updates until my I’s are dotted and my T’s are crossed. Just know that we’re working on it,” continued O’Neal. “I don’t like to say I’m going to do something and then take 10 years to do it. I need to have the money in place, the plans in place, everything in place, and then we’ll already be working on it. Then I’ll come and tell you we’re doing it.
“We’re working on it, trust me.”
While O’Neal was holding court in Louisiana, he took time to dish on local sports, sharing his thoughts on the selection of the new mascot for the state’s lone NBA franchise and sounding off on LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., someone Shaq says has reached out to him before and deserves some Heisman consideration.
“That’s a terrible name,” O’Neal said of the Pelicans. “I told Charles [Barkley] on TNT that I don’t even know what a pelican looks like. I don’t even think I’ve seen a pelican. Is that the big white bird?”
O’Neal, asked to give an alternative, scrambled but came up with “Tigers or Crawfish or something.”
“But I wish them well,” O’Neal added. “I’m just going to be interested to see how many jerseys they sell. I’m not buying a jersey with a pelican on it. Just letting you know right now. But good luck to them, and hopefully one day they can get some marquee players to fill the arena up. Because that’s a town that wants to support something good … Louisiana, in general, if you give them a good product, they’ll get in their RVs and drive and they will support you from Shreveport all the way down.”
Finally, giving his opinion on Beckham, O’Neal reminded that he’s already taken to Twitter to tout the LSU star.
“I tweeted that the other day, the way this kid’s playing he looks like the Heisman,” said O’Neal. “Wide receivers, they have to get their number called. I remember watching him last year and he was open a number of times, but he had to get his number called. Right now, they’re calling his number and he’s putting up some good numbers. So hopefully the coaches will have faith in him and keep going back to him.
“I went to school with his father, and me and his father were best friends. He [Odell Jr.] calls me all the time and asks me for advice. Like last year he wasn’t getting the call, and I told him, I said, ‘Son, you’ve got to wait your turn. There’s only a few people that can come in here and get their number called. You’ve got to wait your turn.’ I had to tell him the story about when I first came here, and there was Chris [Jackson] and Stanley [Roberts]. I just had to wait my turn, and next thing I know, one flunked out and one left. Then it was all me. Odell is a junior this year, so we’ve got two years to really get him going. But these first couple of games, they’ve been calling his number.”
From giving back to the community to paying it forward to college athletes of the future, the generosity of Dr. O’Neal – yes, as he reminded, Dr. O’Neal – knows no bounds.
Premium subscribers to Scout.com can click on the link below to view O’Neal’s comments on LSU basketball and the direction of the program on the court and in recruiting under Johnny Jones.
O’Neal discusses progression of LSU basketball program
Stick around at Tiger Sports Digest and talk all the latest in LSU sports and recruiting on our free board or over on our premium access board.