Shaquille O'Neal is best known as the hulking 7'1", 300-pound center of basketball's Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, but his is the rare sports personality able to cross over, with debatable success, into other areas of entertainment, such as movies and rap music. He has also been a spokesman for such popular brands as Pepsi and Reebok.
The NBA's future dominant big man and top attraction was born on March 6, 1972, in Newark, NJ, and grew up an army brat, raised on overseas military bases. An All-American and player of the year at Louisiana State University, O'Neal was selected as the top pick in the 1992 NBA draft by the Magic, immediately becoming their meal ticket and earning Rookie of the Year honors. As his persona grew toward household name status, Shaq turned his attention toward film work, first appearing as himself in the rap parody CB4 (1993) and then garnering decent reviews as -- surprise, surprise -- a basketball player in William Friedkin's courtside corruption story Blue Chips (1994).
By this time, O'Neal had morphed into one of the most popular professional athletes and a Jordan-sized phenomenon, and his rap career was born. Starting to wear ornate jewelry, he recorded a song with Fu Schnickens and soon released his own album, Shaq Diesel (1993), which sold more than a million copies. Although no one has ever suggested he quit his day job to focus on rhyming, O'Neal has continued to release almost an album a year and befriended such legit collaborators as Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, and Common.
It was when Shaq first tried to carry a movie and stretch his limited range that he earned his reputation as a laughable novice, unable to attract crowds in the droves that came to watch him dunk and block shots. He received top billing as a larger-than-life genie in the dopey PG-dud Kazaam (1996), which earned more critical hazings than dollars at the box office (a shade under 19 million dollars). When his follow-up, the harder-edged DC comics Superman spin-off Steel (1997) also went belly up, managing a stomach-churning 1.7 million dollars, Shaq basically hung up his high tops as an actor. Although he purportedly signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1996 off-season to be closer to Hollywood, O'Neal preferred to concentrate on his rapping and winning his first and second NBA championships in 2000 and 2001.