Read On the Court With... Shaquille O'Neal Online

Authors: Matt Christopher

Tags: #Juvenile Nonfiction, #Basketball, #Sports & Recreation, #United States, #Biography & Autobiography, #African American, #People & Places

On the Court With... Shaquille O'Neal

BOOK: On the Court With... Shaquille O'Neal
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Copyright © 2003 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at

First eBook Edition: December 2009

Matt Christopher® is a registered trademark of Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-316-09407-8



Chapter One: 1972–87
Little Big Man

Chapter Two: 1987–89
Growing Up … and Up

Chapter Three: 1989–92
Big Man on Campus

Chapter Four: 1992–95
Magic Man

Chapter Five: 1995–99
California Dreaming

Chapter Six: 1999–2000

Chapter Seven: 2000–02
Repeat After Me

Chapter Eight: 2002–2005
Back to Florida!


Matt Christopher

Chapter One: 1972–87
Little Big Man

Shaquille O'Neal is a big, big man. He stands seven feet one inch tall and weighs more than 300 pounds. When Shaquille walks
into a room or onto a basketball court, everyone takes notice.

Since becoming a professional basketball player at age nineteen, Shaquille O'Neal has done big things. Already considered
one of the greatest players in basketball history, he has accomplished almost everything there is to accomplish in the National
Basketball Association. As an individual, he has won the Rookie of the Year award and the scoring title, been named to the
All-NBA first team four times, been selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game nine times, and has been chosen as the Most
Valuable Player of the All-Star Game, regular season, and NBA Finals. As a member of the Los Angeles
Lakers, he has helped his team win three consecutive NBA titles. He even helped the U.S. Olympic basketball team win a gold
medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. In the off-season he has somehow found time to record five rap CDs and appear in three movies.
He even owns his own record label and clothing line!

Believe it or not, success did not come easily to Shaquille O'Neal. Long before he became a professional basketball player,
O'Neal had to learn to live with his size both on and off the court. Simply being the biggest kid in class or the biggest
kid on his block wasn't always enough to ensure success. Being the biggest player on the basketball court didn't mean that
he knew how to play well or how to help his team win. In both his private life and his basketball career, Shaquille O'Neal
has had to learn the tough lesson that while his size is a great gift that makes him stand out from the crowd, how he makes
use of that gift is far more important.

More than any individual honor or personal achievement, that lesson has been perhaps his greatest accomplishment. For not
only is Shaq a great player and teammate, he has become a good person and a role model. He credits much of his success
today to the example set by the most important person in his life: his mother, Lucille.

Lucille O'Neal grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Although her parents, Sirlester and Odessa O'Neal, didn't have much money, Lucille
worked hard at school and dreamed of going on to college after high school and becoming a nurse. She was determined to make
something of her life.

In high school she started dating an older student named James Toney. Toney was tall and good-looking and a star of the school
basketball team. After high school he attended Seton Hall University in nearby East Orange, New Jersey, and continued to date

But when Lucille was eighteen years old and still a senior in high school, she became pregnant. When she told Toney she was
going to have a baby, he quickly made it clear that he had no plans to marry Lucille or help her raise a child. He had gotten
involved with the wrong crowd and wasn't taking much responsibility for his own life.

Lucille stopped seeing Toney and began to make plans to take care of her child. She moved in with her grandmother Cillar and
prepared to become a mother.

On March 6, 1972, Lucille O'Neal gave birth to a son. The baby was born healthy, weighing just under eight pounds. Lucille
loved him with all her heart.

Many people in Lucille's family had distinctive names, and she wanted her son to have a unique name as well, one that she
hoped would reflect his future life. She knew their life would be a struggle, so she selected an Islamic name, Shaquille Rashaun,
which means “little warrior.” As she later explained to a reporter, “I felt he was my little one, my little warrior. I wanted
him to be strong, independent, and tough.” Since James Toney was no longer a part of her life, she gave her son her own last
name, O'Neal.

After taking care of the infant for a few months, Lucille reluctantly left her son in day care each day and went to work for
the city of Newark as a receptionist at a youth center. Although she didn't earn much money, she was able to pay her bills.
She worked hard and soon applied for other jobs with the city, eventually becoming a clerk in the payroll department at City

Meanwhile, her “little warrior,” Shaquille, was beginning to grow. He loved to eat and was very
bright and energetic. He didn't want to be held or cuddled very much. He was happy-go-lucky and liked to play.

When Shaquille was only two years old, his mother met Phillip Harrison. Harrison was nothing like James Toney. He had two
young children from a previous marriage and, unlike Toney, was doing his best to provide for them.

Lucille began dating Phillip, and the two soon married. But before they did, Harrison looked up James Toney. Harrison had
played basketball in college, so he knew who Toney was, but the two weren't close friends. When Harrison spoke to Toney, he
told him that he planned to treat Shaquille as if he were his own son.

And he did. Harrison became Shaquille's father. To this day, Shaquille O'Neal considers Phil Harrison his father and not James
Toney. He even wrote a rap song about how James Toney had abandoned his mother and him. The song is called “Biological Didn't

Harrison soon realized he had to do everything he could to support his family and help them thrive. He wanted to move out
of Newark, which was a poor
community that didn't provide a good environment for children. Soon after marrying Lucille, Harrison decided to join the army.

Harrison loved the discipline, structure, and security the army provided. He believed that young Shaquille needed the same
sort of structure in his life. At times he was very strict with his son, but only because he was determined that Shaquille
make something of his life.

Of course, Shaquille was little more than a toddler, so at first many of those lessons went to waste. When Shaquille misbehaved,
Harrison would punish Shaquille by sending him to his room. But when Harrison went to work, Shaquille's mother would break
down and lift the punishment. She just couldn't stay mad at her son for very long.

As the years passed, Phil Harrison moved up the ranks in the army. The family moved to Bayonne, New Jersey, and soon grew
larger. When Shaquille was six years old, his sister Lateefah was born, followed one year later by another sister, Ayesha,
and then a year later by his little brother, Jamal.

Shaquille was growing, too, and was much bigger than other children his age. When Lucille took Shaquille on the train to visit
relatives, she carried
his birth certificate to prove to the conductor that despite his size, Shaquille was still young enough to ride for free.
By the time he started school, he was one of the biggest students in his grade. But he was bright, too. When he was little,
his mother had read to him from the dictionary. She hoped to give her son a jump start on his education. It may have worked,
for Shaquille skipped first grade.

In many ways, Shaquille was a typical boy. He liked to play sports, particularly basketball and football. Even though he was
one of the youngest kids in the local youth leagues, he towered over his opponents. His size helped him become a star player
on most teams.

But as he grew older, Shaquille started developing some bad habits. He wasn't a bad kid, but because both his parents were
working, he didn't always have a great deal of supervision. He allowed his friends to talk him into doing things that he knew
were wrong, like stealing candy and other small items from stores. His friends didn't care about school, so Shaquille stopped
paying attention, too, and spent much of his time in class goofing off. In fourth grade he received all F's on a report card
and was in danger of failing for the year.

In an effort to turn their son around, Shaquille's parents gave him a wake-up call. They knew how important sports were to
him. So they told him that if he didn't earn passing grades, they wouldn't allow him to play. Shaquille knew they meant what
they said. He started working a little harder in school, and soon his grades went up.

However, he still didn't take school very seriously. He didn't understand that education was about more than just learning
lessons. It was also about learning how to learn and behave.

When Shaquille was ten years old and in the fifth grade, everything changed in his life. The army transferred Phil Harrison
to Fort Stewart in Georgia. The whole family had to move.

Shaquille didn't react to the move very well. He missed his old friends and he had to get accustomed to living with different
kinds of people. Growing up in New Jersey, the Harrisons had always lived in an African American community. Shaquille hadn't
spent much time with children from other parts of the country or of other races. All of a sudden, everyone was different.

To make matters worse, Shaquille was a shy child and younger than most of the other kids in his class.
In addition, many of the other children were the sons and daughters of army officers. These officers made more money than
Shaquille's father, who was only a supply sergeant. Money was tight, and Shaquille often had to wear the same pair of pants
two or three times a week. This fact didn't escape the notice of his classmates. They teased him about his clothes. His size
made him an easy target for name-calling, too. Taunts such as Sasquatch, Tall Bunyan, or the name that bothered him the most,
Shaquilla the Gorilla, followed him around the school.

Shaquille hated being teased. To take the focus off his height, he began to act up. In the classroom, he became a clown and
was constantly disrupting class by cracking a joke, playing a prank, or just not paying attention to the teacher. Outside
of school, he continued to go along with the crowd and followed others into trouble. When the teasing became unbearable, he
became a bully, getting into fights almost every week. He discovered that he could intimidate other kids and that when he
did, other students would be nice to him because they were afraid.

The Harrisons were concerned about their son. Phil Harrison, in particular, was embarrassed by
all the trouble his son was causing. In the past, Shaquille's father had spanked him when he misbehaved. But now that Shaquille
was nearly as big as his father, the spankings didn't have much impact anymore. One day Shaquille and his father sat down
and had a long talk.

Shaquille told him about how much he hated being teased and how embarrassed he was to be so big. His father, who stood six
feet five inches, understood what it was like to be bigger than most other kids. He also knew that his son needed to look
at his size as something positive rather than something negative. Phil told him, “Look how big you are. Be a leader, not a
follower. People will look up to you.”

Shaquille never forgot those words. He wanted to be looked up to. He wanted to accomplish something in his life. Ever so slowly,
he began to change.

Life soon changed, too. After one year in Georgia, Phil was transferred again. This time the family had to move to Germany.

At first, Shaquille hated being in Germany. He didn't like the cold weather and was bored with life on the army base. He had
an after-school job but quit before too long. Instead, he baby-sat for his little brother and sisters while his parents worked

not something he found to be too much fun. The only thing he really liked to do was play basketball.

On the base, Shaquille made friends with the wrong crowd of kids. Soon he was getting into trouble again. Although his buddies
liked to sing and break-dance, they also stole from the stores on the base and vandalized other people's property to show
one another how tough and brave they were.

BOOK: On the Court With... Shaquille O'Neal
12.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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