Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal opens his HBO documentary series by saying, “The world knows I’m a bullshitter. Like, sometimes, when you tell a story, you wanna add a little barbecue sauce.” An onscreen disclaimer then warns viewers, “This is a true story. Told by Shaq. So…you know.”
Though he may have a flair for embellishment, the four-time NBA champion is pretty honest and forthcoming in the four-part series Shaq – its first episode premiering tonight on Crave with subsequent episodes dropping each following Wednesday. Like fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan before him in ESPN and Netflix’s riveting The Last Dance, in Shaq, the larger-than-life champ sits down for the cameras to take us through his life before, on, and beyond the court.
Featuring interviews from key figures like Magic Johnson, Rick Fox, Jerry West, Penny Hardaway, Dennis Scott, Derek Fisher, and Phil Jackson along with members of Shaq’s family, the series chronicles his beginnings in New Jersey and his on-the-move childhood as a part of a military family under the strict supervision of his step-father Sergeant Phillip Harrison. Having reached a stature of six foot nine by the time he was 13-years-old, a career in basketball seemed almost predestined and, surely enough, he was the first round pick for the Orlando Magic in the 1992 NBA draft and was later named Rookie of The Year. Shaq clearly delights in proving people wrong, undertaking a trademark “fuck that” attitude when he’s doubted.
The documentary, naturally devotes significant airtime to his wildly successful run with the LA Lakers where, alongside Kobe Bryant, the charismatic Shaq brought the franchise into a new Showtime era of success, achieving the rare NBA Championship three-peat in 2000, 2001, and 2002 with Shaq also being named Finals MVP each year.
The doc cannot avoid addressing the infamous tension and eventual very public beef between Kobe and Shaq although Shaq mostly lets others tell that part of the story. Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson admits, “the dynamics between Shaq and Kobe were starting to be exacerbated.” A particular sore spot for Shaq is when, in 2003 and under investigation for sexual assault, Kobe implied to the media that Shaq had paid off his share of women with hush money payouts. It’s clearly a painful topic for Shaq who refuses to talk about that aspect specifically. Still, Shaq calls his partnership with Kobe, “the most enigmatic, the most controversial, the most dominant one-two punch ever created in all of the game.”
Although the one-time teammates later mended fences, a regretful Shaq admits it had been a while since they had been in contact when, in January of 2020, the world was stunned by Kobe’s death in a tragic helicopter crash. “Son, this is bullshit” was Shaq’s reaction when his son showed him an alert on his phone about the crash. Shaq admits Kobe’s death, and the death of his beloved sister Ayesha later that same year, continue to affect him, even casuing him insomnia. “Those two things will haunt me forever,” he reveals in one episode. The Bryant family reportedly asked Shaq director Robert Alexander to limit the amount of Kobe screentime and, out of respect for the family, he complied.
Shaq also chronicles his trade to Miami where, alongside Dwyane Wade, he secured the first NBA Championship in Heat franchise history and Shaq’s fourth overall. We then see Shaq drift from the Heat to the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics before ultimately retiring in 2011 admitting, “Father Time has finally caught up with Shaquille O’Neal.”
While it may not ultimately achieve the same buzz, accolades, and rapt attention by viewers as Michael Jordan’s aforementioned 10-episode The Last Dance series, where Shaq does excel it is in his willingness to be more forthcoming about its protagonists personal life, detailing Shaq was not exactly an ideal husband, calling himself a “dumb, idiotic brat” and admitting his 2009 divorce from Shaunie Nelson was largely his fault, “everything that was bad that happened was all because of me.” Shaq’s kids are permitted to weigh in with sons Myles and Shareef O’Neal admitting they didn’t know if they could even communicate with their father for risk of hurting their mother. The split seemingly still weighs on Shaq with him saying, “all the crying and all the tears. I’ve never been shot or stabbed but it felt like that.”
Now 50 and with basketball behind him, a blockbuster broadcast career under his belt and a super successful pivot to businessman and celebrity pitch person, Shaq is clearly a man focused on righting his wrongs and cementing his legacy. “I want people to say Shaquille O’Neal was a nice guy.”