A topic regarding which NBA superstar of today would survive the game in the 1990s back when the rules were loose and aggression was the name of the game led Shaquille O’Neal to reveal both the reason behind his longevity in the sport that has since taken a much “softer” route and what sport really had his heart as he was growing up.
“What a lot of people don’t know, the reason why I survived hack-a-Shaqers, football is my first love,” the 14-time NBA All-Star said on a recent episode of the “Green Light” podcast to host Chris Long about opposing teams’ physical defensive strategy against him. O’Neal was so unstoppable on offense in the paint that opposing teams would commit hard fouls on him and take their chances with his shaky foul shooting rather than give up an almost certain dunk, a strategy that came to be known as “hack-a-Shaq.”
“I’m a football player first,” the former Los Angeles Lakers star expressed. “I never even thought about basketball until my father showed me an article where [former Atlanta Hawks center] Jon Koncak was making a lot of money, because my idol was [6-foot-9 Dallas Cowboys defensive end Ed] ‘Too Tall’ Jones before it was Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And I used to love to hit. I used to love beating people up. So I brought the football mentality to the NBA when I played.”
When asked what position he’d play, Shaq bragged a little, stating, “Tight end. My Hands are impeccable.” Later in the discussion, Shaq revealed his former college roommate to be none other than NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s father, Beckham Sr. The former Louisiana State player claimed Beckham Sr. learned his athletic techniques from him. In addition, Shaq said, “his son learned from me.” He added, “his hands are cheap.”
It’s not entirely shocking to hear pro athletes claim a proficiency in a sport outside of the one they play professionally. Over the years, fans have seen several sports legends try their hand at other sports and succeed, including Deion Sanders, who played football and baseball professionally and is the only athlete to appear in a Super Bowl and a World Series.
On Oct. 11, 1992, Sanders infamously started for the Atlanta Falcons against the Miami Dolphins during the day, then boarded a chartered jet to join the Atlanta Braves in Pittsburgh for Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The baseball community reportedly took offense, and Sanders did not play that evening.
At the time, New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden described Sanders’ schedule as a “whirlwind 24 hours of unadulterated selfishness.”