Shaq Inc. – With his professional hoops days behind him, former LSU Tiger Shaquille O’Neal has built a multimillion-dollar business empire.
More than two decades ago, a 7-foot-1-inch basketball star with a lopsided grin, a sense of humor and a tenacious business drive attempted to walk into LSU professor Joe Hair’s principles of marketing class and got stuck.
“He joked a lot about his height, even saying, ‘They don’t make these doors big enough for a guy like me,'” Hair says. “And he couldn’t fit at the desk, either. So we got him a different chair to sit in, but we couldn’t find a desk for him to sit in because he was so big.”
Shaquille O’Neal is still living large. He retired from the NBA three years ago after a 19-year career and four championship rings. But the 42-year-old continues to build his brand and expand his investment portfolio. He has a net worth of nearly $350 million, and last year he reportedly made $23 million in television commercials, endorsements and partnerships.
He owns car washes, fitness centers and burger chain franchises. He has his own brand of shoes, watches and sunglasses. He’s invested in Google, Vitamin Water and a jet company. He owns part of Muscle Milk. And he owns three nightclubs in Las Vegas. And that’s for starters.
He has an MBA and a doctorate in education. He’s a baller, a businessman and a boy in blue after being sworn in as a part-time police officer in Golden Beach, Florida. He’s a rapper, an actor and an author.
He has a nickname for every facet of his life. At the gym, he’s Diesel. He’s Shaq-Fu in his digital fighting video game. And if something rhymes with “Shaq,” chances are he has personalized the word. He’s part-owner of the Sacramento Kings, a father of six and a Freemason. He is also philanthropic, donating money to Boys and Girls Club, distributing supplies to Hurricane Katrina victims and delivering toys to needy kids at Christmas dressed as Shaq-A-Claus.
“He’s a pretty unique person. His advantage is that his success as an athlete gave him a platform and opened doors to do things that a lot of people would have to work harder to do,” says Hair, who retired from LSU after 28 years and now teaches at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta. “He recognized that and leveraged it.”
And his legacy lives on at LSU, where he played basketball from 1989 to 1993. His size 23 shoes are on display at TJ Ribs on South Acadian Thruway, and there’s a bronze statue of him dunking a basketball outside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Sportswriter and television host Lee Feinswog met O’Neal when the then 17-year-old was a freshman at LSU. During his sophomore year, he was named Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year, and Feinswog was in Minneapolis covering the ceremony.
“I remember asking him, ‘Are you going to leave? You can certainly turn pro if you want to,'” Feinswog says. “He said, “I want to, but honestly I don’t know what I would do with the money. I want to learn more about what to do with the money.”
Shaq is unmistakably a brand. He is that rare individual who is instantly recognizable by just one name. It’s rare for the letter U to not follow a Q. In the English dictionary, there are about 70 words that fall into that category.
Shaq doesn’t need U.
“He has a natural ability but also the personality,” Hair says. “He’s basically a nice guy, and he was always the type of individual who consistently talked about how important his image was. It wasn’t only what people said about him, but he talked about managing his actions and talking about what he did. He consciously took actions to be sure that he was perceived favorably.”
O’Neal publicly visits Baton Rouge once per year in September for his annual golf tournament, the Shaquille O’Neal Life Skills Golf Classic.
The tournament raises about $50,000 annually for the Shaquille O’Neal Life Skills Program at the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes at LSU, the life skills program, says Jade Bryan, the program’s associate director. She said the first time she met O’Neal, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
“I knew from what I see on TV, and it was a pleasant surprise just to see how down-to-earth he really is and how much passion he has for life in general,” Bryan says.
“He has a real concern for LSU and student athletes and makes sure to come back when he can. Whenever I see him now, he always remembers me and asks how my son is. He has a great personality and is always joking around, but he’s really a businessman as well. He’s made a lot of great deals and endorsements and has really stayed connected to people here.”
During his first year at LSU, for example, O’Neal met Roy Marchand, owner of a small seafood restaurant in Gonzales, Roy Marchand & Son, through one of his college friends. Marchand, his wife and O’Neal became lifetime friends.
The Marchands named a sandwich after O’Neal, the Shaq Daddy, a shrimp po-boy with cheese. O’Neal flew the Marchands to his NBA games and to visit him at the 70,000-square-foot home he owned in Florida.
When Marchand’s wife was sick with cancer, O’Neal flew in from Los Angeles to visit her in the hospital; and when O’Neal’s book Shaq Uncut: My Story was released in 2011, Marchand stood in line at Barnes & Noble for his friend’s autograph.
O’Neal found him in line, Marchand says, picked him up and hugged him, and asked if he needed anything.
“I don’t think there was ever an athlete that was that popular and that good of a person,” says Marchand, 83. “And it wasn’t just me he handled like that. You could see him after a game, and that’s how he handled everyone. Everyone always asks me why I don’t ask him for more, and I guess I could, but I never wanted anything from him except his friendship.”
“Loyal” is a word used by many people when describing O’Neal.
“He’s a genuine and loving human being. He reached out to the underdogs all the time,” says former LSU coach Dale Brown, who is a close friend of O’Neal’s. “The worst players on the teamhe always put them first. He never says anything negative, and people really love him.”
While his NBA career is over, his businesses keep on growing, and it takes a man with a lot of chops and an refined sense of success to continue to make millions of dollars with a retired jersey.
“He’s smart. He was always innovating in his thinking about anything,” Feinswog says. “Look at the creative things he’s been part of. He understood from his upbringing that there was a lot more than just sports. I think that he realized from day one he had a chance to make a lot of money and do a lot with it. He was not just going to be another dumb jock when his NBA career was over.”
It’s a sad fact that 60% of all NBA players are broke within just five years of retiring. Not Shaquille O’Neal. The current job title listed on his LinkedIn profile perhaps says it best: “CEO/President, A Lot of Different Companies Inc.” It’s worth noting that more connections have endorsed him for entrepreneurship, business development and business strategy than for basketball. Since retiring from the NBA in 2011, Shaq has banked on his own brand, transforming himself from a professional athlete to business tycoon. In April, he made the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek‘s “Success Issue,” which noted that he now makes more in endorsements than he did as an All Star. Here’s a sampling of his business interests.
ESTIMATED NET WORTH: $350 million
EARNINGS LAST YEAR: $23 million
• Ed.D, Barry University, Miami (2012)
• MBA, University of Phoenix (2005)
• B.A., LSU (2000)
• Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn exceeded a $450,000 crowdfunding goal in May on IndieGoGo to develop a remake of the infamous fighting video game released in 1994 that’s now considered to be among the worst ever made. One donor gave $35,000 to have Shaq be a DJ at a party.
• Co-host/Analyst, TNT’s Inside the NBA
• Host, truTV’s Upload with Shaquille O’Neal
• Host, Cartoon Network Hall of Game Awards
• Author, Little Shaq series of children’s books for Bloomsbury Children’s
Most recent acting gigs
The Lego Movie
The Smurfs 2
Grown Ups 2
• Gold Bond
• Reebok (Shaq Attaq high-tops in purple and yellow)
• AriZona Beverages
• Monster Audio
• Macy’s (signature collection of men’s suits)
• Dove Men+Care
• Zales (signature collection of stainless steel jewelry)
• Minority owner, Sacramento Kings
• Senior board member, Tout
• Investor, Vitamin Water
• Investor, Muscle Milk
• Investor, The Original SoupMan
• Pre-IPO investor, Google
• Owner, 55 Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurants
• Owner, 40 24-Hour Fitness clubs
• Owner, 17 Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
• Shaq is the founder of The O’Neal Group, a real estate firm that aligned with MDM Development in a $1 billion project called Met Miami, which includes an 866-foot residential tower, office buildings and a five-star JW Marriott Marquis Miami Hotel.
• In 2012, The O’Neal Group partnered with Boraie Development, with financing from Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and other investors, to purchase and renovate a movie theater in Shaq’s hometown of Newark. Among the $7 million in renovations: special 300-seat auditoriums called Shaq-DX with 47-foot screens, surround sound and leather seating.