Before they ever dress in NBA uniforms, the University of Kentucky’s latest soon-to-be millionaires should have some business sense about them.
That was the advice offered by Shaquille O’Neal, a Naismith Hall of Fame member who won four NBA championships before retiring in 2011. He was in town as the keynote speaker for the University of the Cumberlands’ 12th annual edition of “The Excellence in Leadership Series.”
“Be prepared to handle your business,” O’Neal said. “Nineteen-year-olds, 20-year-olds making 20, 30 million (dollars), it’s kind of hard to handle. You need to have some sort of business type about yourself.”
O’Neal added with a grin, “One term you must know is FICA. FICA will take all your money.”
He recalled wanting to go pro after his freshman year at Louisiana State University. His mother took him shopping and instructed him to balance a checkbook.
“I couldn’t do it,” O’Neal said. “She said, ‘You’re not ready.’” Eventually O’Neal went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft following his junior season. He went 3-2 against UK, a program for which he holds a great deal of respect.
“I love, well, I can’t say I love UK basketball,” Shaq said with a laugh. He went on to mention that the Wildcats are on the list of programs for his son, Shareef O’Neal, a four-star prospect out of Los Angeles who’s considered the 30th-best recruit in the Class of 2018 by 247Sports. That site’s crystal ball prediction has UK tabbed as the favorite to land the 6-foot-7 power forward, but UK hasn’t yet offered him.
“I don’t know where he’s gonna go, but I would love for him to play for a coach like (John Calipari),” O’Neal said. “The fans there are always good.”
O’Neal was selected as the keynote speaker for Cumberlands’ event in part because of his vocal support of law enforcement. Leadership awards in honor of Daniel Ellis and Jason Ellis, two police officers who were slain while on duty in recent years, were presented to their respective widows, Katie and Amy, before O’Neal spoke before a sold-out crowd. Scholarships were presented to Hunter and Parker Ellis, the sons of Jason and Amy, and Luke Ellis, the son of Daniel and Katie, as part of the program.
The 15-time All-Star described himself as a “medium-level juvenile delinquent” as an adolescent. He had two uncles, both policemen, who took him to the local jail and left him there for three days.
“They said, ‘If you keep going down the wrong path, this is where you’re gonna end up,’” O’Neal said. “I didn’t like it. … Cops always looked out for me, so I just love law enforcement. All of ’em.”
His passion eventually resulted in action. While he was with the Los Angeles Lakers, O’Neal graduated from the police academy, and he did so again in Florida after he was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004. He’s currently a deputy sheriff in Doral, Fla., and hopes to run for sheriff in Georgia or Florida in 2020.
“Rather than someone just give me a badge, I wanted to earn my spot,” O’Neal. “I wanted to be just like everybody else. So when I run for sheriff, I’m sure I could probably just win off of name recognition, but I’m not looking for that. I want the troops to respect me and understand that I feel for them and I always did the same things that they did. Hopefully it’ll work out.”
Most of O’Neal’s other ventures in life have. The 7-foot-1 hulk has successfully transitioned from basketball star to media personality and businessman; the “Shaq” brand is affiliated with everything from energy drinks to shoes to pain-relief medication.
“Being a player and being on championship teams, I understand partnerships, so I’ve partnered up with people that are a lot smarter than I am,” O’Neal said. “… I wish I could say I was an expert.”