Shaquille O’Neal: From NBA Superstar to Successful Business Leader

Jason Hanold
4 min readFeb 27, 2024

Shaquille O’Neal is a former NBA player, current TV sports analyst, and an excellent example of a professional athlete who has succeeded both in sports and in his career beyond basketball. The larger-than-life Shaq (literally — he’s 7’1” and 325 pounds) is a four-time NBA champion who is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Alongside his extraordinary career in the NBA, Shaq is also a successful entrepreneur with a business empire that covers a diverse range of industries and investments. He overcame several challenges in his early life to reach where he is today.

Early Life

By the age of 13, Shaq was already 6’6”. He came from a tall family — both his parents stood over 6 feet. His father had played basketball in high school and was offered a scholarship but struggled with addiction. Following his dad’s imprisonment and subsequent abandonment of the family, Shaq grew up with his mother and stepfather, spending the early part of his childhood in Newark, New Jersey. He credits Newark’s Boys & Girls Clubs with providing him with a safe place to play, keeping him off the streets, and giving him something to do.

Because his stepfather served in the military, Shaq and his family lived at various military bases in Germany and Texas before settling down in San Antonio. By this point, Shaq was 6’10” and began playing basketball at Robert G. Cole High School. He helped the team achieve a 68–1 record over two years and win the state championship in his senior year. During the 1989 season, his 791 rebounds established a state record that remains unbroken today.

After graduating high school, Shaq attended Louisiana State University, where he earned the Adolf Rupp Trophy as NCAA Men’s Basketball Player of the Year. He was also a two-time All-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year. Despite leaving before graduating to join the NBA, Shaq did not abandon his education completely. He eventually continued his studies after going pro.

NBA Icon

Describing himself as “a businessman who is athletic,” Shaq remains one of the most celebrated players in NBA history. During his 19-year career, he spent eight seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, four with the Miami Heat, and four with the Orlando Magic. Best known for his dominating size and powerful dunks, he is a 15-time NBA All-Star, a 14-time All-NBA Team selection, a three-time NBA Finals MVP, and a four-time NBA Champion with the Lakers and the Heat. He led the league in field goal percentage in 10 seasons during his career. His impact on the game was huge and his off-court charisma won him a sizeable fanbase.

While playing for the Lakers, Shaq and Kobe Bryant formed what is widely credited as one of the most dominant double acts in NBA history. Combining Bryant’s scoring ability and perimeter skills with Shaq’s dominant post play, the Lakers won consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002. Shaq went on to form another successful duo with Dwyane Wade during his time with the Heat, leading the team to the NBA championship in 2006.

Success Off the Court

Shaq announced his retirement from the NBA in June 2011. Already known to an even wider audience due to the plethora of products he endorsed, he had amassed an extensive business portfolio by the time he left the sport. Over the years, O’Neal has invested in several companies, including Apple, Google, Ring, Lyft, Vitaminwater, and Muscle Milk. He’s also launched his own restaurant chain, Big Chicken.

Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey in an article for the Los Angeles Times, Texas A&M associate professor Natasha Brison attests that his brand is “stronger now than it has ever been.” Considering that so many professional athletes struggle after leaving sports, Shaq’s business achievements have helped reshape the idea of what it means to be a successful former athlete. A firm believer in franchising, he has owned a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, 9 Papa John’s pizza restaurants, 17 Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops, 40 24-Hour Fitness gyms, and 155 Five Guys restaurants. His Big Chicken fast-casual chain operates more than 18 outlets across the United States.

In addition to his business empire, Shaq has also amassed millions from endorsements, appearing in commercials and promoting products for Pepsi, Buick, Reebok, Comcast, Google, JCPenney, Taco Bell, Icy Hot, and Tonka. O’Neal has also worked with Medium Rare and Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group on live events, including producing the Shaqtoberfest Halloween carnival in Long Beach, California, and Shaq’s Fun House Super Bowl Festival.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in general studies from Louisiana State University, Shaq earned an MBA and educational specialist degree in instructional technology from the University of Phoenix. He is one of a few NBA players to have a doctoral degree, having studied at Barry University, where he earned an Ed.D. in human resource development.

Shaq’s investment strategy is simple: he backs companies that make products he believes in. Rather than focusing solely on financial returns or getting caught up in the latest trending investments, he prioritizes his personal understanding and enjoyment of a company’s products. It’s a philosophy that has worked well for him — his net worth is estimated at $400 million. His business savvy has also allowed him to become a philanthropist via his Shaquille O’Neal Foundation, which works primarily in Atlanta and Las Vegas in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the nonprofit Communities in Schools.



Jason Hanold

Executive Recruiter, clients NFL, Google, Patagonia, Under Armour, Gucci, Nike, Northwestern, eBay, UFC, Vail, REI, Electronic Arts, Live Nation, #HR #Recruiter