Shaquille O’Neal’s mom, Lucille O’Neal, sits down with the TODAY Show for an exclusive interview.
“We’re on this road only once. If you don’t make the best of it… that’s on you.” The words of Shaq’s mom – Lucille O’Neal, in a recent interview with Sheinelle Jones of the Today Show.
Lucille O’Neal was a very young mother – only 17 at the time Shaq was born. Lucille says she and Shaq “grew up together” using “common sense, a little bit of help, and taking it one day at a time.” O’Neal says when little Shaq was born, her mother – Shaq’s grandmother – told her there was “something special about that one,” and that someday people would definitely know who her son was. Definitely some special insight from Shaq’s grandmother!
Shaq is the oldest – Lucille says the family calls him “the eldest” – of four children in the family. Mom says all four were definitely athletic and played a lot of sports. But mom definitely made sure all her kids were serious about both sports and getting their education. “No pass, no play” was her rule.
That made it a little hard on her to see Shaq leave college at LSU to enter the NBA draft after three years in college. In the interview, she says she wanted Shaq to stay in college and finish his degree. But Shaq told her it was “time to go.” Still, he promised his mother he would finish his college degree some day, and eventually he did!
Talking about being a mother, Lucille O’Neal put it this way to Jones: “I’m not orderly, I’m not disciplined… I’m loving. It’s always about, ‘I got you, baby.’” Lucille said that what helped her brood most was banding together as a family, taking care of each other.
Any favorite moments or memories for mom? Ms. O’Neal pointed to the ceremony when the Los Angeles Lakers retired Shaq’s jersey, hanging it in the rafters of the building, next to other Laker all-time greats. Mom’s house is filled with Shaq memorabilia… including his Top 50 Player of All Time award and one of every jersey Shaq has worn from every team he’s ever played for.
Funny stories: Lucille O’Neal says when Shaq was having a particularly tough time with free throws (something he struggled with for much of his NBA career), she brought a sign to one of his games. As Shaq got to the line for a couple of free throws, she held up a sign that said: Bend your knees! As she chanted “bend your knees!” the crowd joined in, and it turned into quite a show. Shaq asked mom not to embarrass him, and so the Bend Your Knees sign made one – and only one – appearance at a game.
For Lucille O’Neal and her son – and the rest of her family – it’s been quite the journey. “We lived that journey every day.” mom says. “Our then is definitely no our now. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been worth it.”
Mom says Shaq is spending some of his “retirement” time to talk to kids in schools and athletic programs. His message: “Whatever it is you want to do… Just do it!” (Nod to Nike…) “Opportunity and life,” Lucille O’Neal says, “We’re on this road only once. If you don’t make the best of it, that’s on you.”