VetFamily: Shaquille O'Neal, NBA Star and Step-son to Army Vet

Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O’Neal is best known as one of the most dominant players in the history of the NBA, and lately he’s become an Internet sensation. He’s known as Shaq, the “Big Cactus,” “The Big Diesel” and several other self-proclaimed nicknames, but today we recognize him for his service to the country through his family. Shaq is the proud product of family military service.

Lately, press and fans alike have been ogling over the humorous one-liners he transmits on Twitter, the wildly popular social media service. "In this world we live in now, everybody becomes media," Shaq once told the New York Times. Oddly enough, this emergence was somewhat forced upon him by someone impersonating him early last year. But now his Twitter feed has a loyal following of nearly 1.5 million fans and has made him one of the best-read “tweets” online.

"The Greatest leader is the greatest servant," one of his most recent postings says "I don’t want no enemies [sic]. Love you all," says another. 

Shaq’s basketball career, which has been extraordinarily successful, began inauspiciously and his family history has not always been picturesque. His biological dad separated from his mom while Shaq was very young, served jail time, and to this day has not spoken with Shaq. O’Neal’s mother, Lucille O’Neal, married U.S. Army sergeant and future FBI agent Phillip Harrison (whom O’Neal considers his father figure) shortly after Shaquille’s birth. O’Neal spent some of his childhood in Germany in Wildflecken, Bavaria, where his stepfather was stationed with the U.S. Army as a drill instructor. His early childhood, even after uniting with his influential Army stepfather, was a period of acting out and getting into trouble.

According to Sports Illustrated, and O’Neal’s own autobiography, life as a military brat was difficult, but ultimately his Army stepfather helped him reverse course. Once overseas in West Germany, he continued to rebel (getting in fights, hitting teachers, breaking into cars, etc.) in hopes that he’d be sent back to the States. However, Philip Harrison put an end to that dream, telling Shaquille, "Look, son, no matter what you do, I’m not letting them send you back. And if you don’t listen to me I’m going to beat your butt. Every ... single ... day."

Shaq also cites sports as helping him get his act together. At a military base in Wildflecken, West Germany, Louisiana State University (LSU) basketball coach Dale Brown was giving a clinic and spotted an already beefy 6-foot-6 O’Neal among the participants and mistaken thought he was military and not brat. He asks, "Where are you from soldier?"

"I’m not a soldier," replied O’Neal. "I’m 13-years-old." Naturally, Brown immediately begins recruiting Shaq, eventually luring him to a legendary LSU career 1989 to 1992. (Although opting out of his senior season to go pro, Shaq eventually returned to LSU to complete his BA degree in general studies.)

Exactly 10 months shy of his 21st birthday, Shaq won the NBA Rookie of the Year honors (receiving 96 out of a possible 98 votes). He averaged 23.4 points per game -- eighth in the league -- and 13.9 rebounds. His Orlando Magic finished the season with a 41-41 record, a 20-win improvement over the previous year. "I hope I can get an NBA championship trophy to go along with it," O’Neal said at the time, "so that when I retire and have children I can tell my son, ’I was bad.’"

And “bad” he’s become, delivering four NBA championships to date. Most recently, he’s be tapped to join the Cleveland Cavaliers and deliver a fifth championship for himself, in partnership with fellow MVP LeBron James.

Shaquille O'Neal's biography does not end with basketball. Although not in the military service like his dad, O’Neal has served in uniform; he’s become personally involved in law enforcement and the police department. As an honorary deputy U.S. Marshall and Miami reserve police officer, the basketball star has helped make many arrests. "I do not have to run after the people or tackle them. They always surrender peacefully. And I’m never afraid,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "When I arrive, they are really already under arrest.” As far as his career in law enforcement: "I am not a hero. My [step] father was my hero growing up," he added.

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