The basketball legend is throwing a festival-turned-cabaret-show-turned-carnival in Miami, and yes, you read that right.
Shaquille O’Neal has been shoring up a trademark on “fun” for decades now. Through sponsorships and investments, television appearances and parties, he’s proven both a student and a master of R&R. Here, see him losing it over his new tree house on Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters. There, see him causing general mayhem as the face of Carnival Cruise Line. Back over here, he’s giving the New Jersey Devils’ Zamboni a whirl. Fun! And now Shaq is taking everything he’s learned about the concept and he’s throwing a big party.
On March 23, the same day that the Ultra Music Festival starts, and as the rest of the city is winding down, Shaq’s Fun House will fire up at a to-be-disclosed warehouse location in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. It’s just one humble N.B.A. star‘s fully formed idea of a good time. The main event is 10 D.J. sets (Shaq won’t name names yet, but told me on a recent phone call that they are among the top in the world, and Shaq himself is one of them), plus a handful of sideshows. It’s part carnival, part cabaret show, part E.D.M festival. The list of 700 or so invitees will include Miami luminaries, Shaq’s friends, his D.J. friends’ friends, various and sundry celebrities, and those night-defying souls who get “drafted to the party” so to speak, which anyone 21-and-older can attempt at the Shaq Fun House site. There will be adults walking around on stilts. There will be a cabaret show. There will be complementary Shake Shack. If you thought there weren’t going to be flamethrowers, you’re still not getting this. It’s like The Greatest Showman, but with 100 percent more E.D.M. This is Shaq’s brain on fun.
This idea for the Fun House came from Shaq’s 2nd or 3rd or 45th act as a D.J. In 2015, he went to TomorrowWorld, the American extension of Belgium’s Tomorrowland, the theatrical E.D.M. festival. The festival had landed in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, which is less than an hour west of Shaq’s home base outside of Atlanta, and he had a run-in with Joe Silberzweig, then the marketing and talent director of TomorrowWorld. “I actually broke in,” he explained. “We were told they didn’t have any passes and so we broke in, and they were getting ready to throw me out and Joe saved the day, and said, ‘No, that’s Shaq.’”
I’ll grant poetic license here because who on Earth does not recognize Shaq? Who doesn’t recognize the seven-foot-one Shaquille O’Neal, a man with a 19-year career in a league of like-minded giants, colloquially known as the N.B.A.? If not from basketball, then maybe his stints in WrestleMania or even W.W.E.’s Monday Night Raw would trigger a memory? Or they might know him from their local Krispy Kreme? From cable? From this one picture of him standing next to Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, where Simone Biles comes up to his middle rib? From a box of Fruity Pebbles? Did these monsters not even see Kazaam? Everybody has an access point to Shaq—a Shaq-ccess point. He’s one of our most culturally diffuse and diversified celebrities.
Regardless, after crashing TomorrowWorld, Shaq was thoroughly charmed. “The thing that I’m impressed with [about] TomorrowWorld is you got a million people out there—no cops, different nations, different flags—everybody’s jumping up and down having a good time, and I didn’t see any problems. I didn’t see any fights. I didn’t see anything crazy, and it was the most incredible thing. And I asked Joe, ‘How do you do this without a lot of cops?’ And he says, ‘Bro, people come to festivals to jam out.’” In his telling, Shaq begged Silberzweig for a set using as many “pleases” as he could muster. Silberzweig granted his wish in 2015, and he “rocked it and killed it.” Evidence of said rocking from that day, and musical performances since, are well documented on his Instagram.
A little-known thing about Shaq is that his D.J. career began around when his basketball career started, at 14. “It was different then. I saved up money. Took it to the pawn shop—got some 1200s,” he told me. Public Enemy and Dr. Dre were early influences, and now, 30 years later, he looks to Steve Aoki and Skrillex for guidance as well.
When it came time to create his nom de D.J. for the festival, Shaq had a lot of nicknames to choose from: Superman, Shaq Daddy, Shaq Fu, the Big Baryshnikov, the Big Shamrock, and several others that involve putting “big” in front of words. He went with “Diesel” because it was his first. Back from his college days at L.S.U., he barreled through human barriers with abandon, like only Shaq and a diesel truck with brake problems could.
The moniker has served him well. He lent it to his first album Shaq Diesel, in 1993, which went platinum. So really, Shaq’s Fun House is just a return to his roots, dieseling through crowds of college students who are skinnier and weaker than him, but now with trap and techno instead of his colossal frame. (A note on Shaq’s D.J. identity that feels essential, but I can’t pinpoint why: “I thought about wearing costumes and all that, but I don’t like being hot. I move around too much.”)
So on March 23, around 2 A.M., Shake Shack will fire up its burners, Shaq will fire up his internal burners, and select invitees will gather at a large warehouse cabaret-carnival sponsored by a ride-share app in Miami. Does that make sense? Must it make sense? At this point, it feels as if Shaq wakes up every morning and muses to himself, What weird, wonderful thing am I going to get involved in today?, and then he goes out and does that thing. Then more and more people around the world discover their own version of Shaq, and he discovers those people, and isn’t that kind of mutual discovery beautiful? If this all goes well, there will be more parties in more locations on more continents. “We definitely want to take it worldwide, because music is worldwide, and don’t forget: I’m a worldwide guy,” he tells me. But who could honestly forget that?