Shaquille O'Neal on learning to 'stop being a brat' and denouncing his celebrity status

Shaquille O'Neal talks giving back, switching off and staying grounded. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Shaquille O'Neal talks giving back, switching off and staying grounded. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers) (Getty/Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Shaquille O'Neal doesn't like to brag about his charitable giving, but the NBA legend who once played a genie in Kazaam is these days is undoubtedly in the business of granting real-life wishes too, whether it involves footing a stranger's bill as a random act of kindness or supporting communities in need through his eponymous foundation.

Speaking to Yahoo Life, O'Neal — who will host the Icy Hot x NBA 2k22 Charity Game on Twitch on Oct. 18 to help raise awareness and donations for the refurbished "Comebaq Courts" he's providing underserved, basketball-loving communities — shared how helping others has helped him appreciate what he has and not veer into "spoiled brat" behavior. Ahead, he opens up about relaxing in front of the TV, denouncing his celebrity status and why "nothing stresses me out."

You've devoted so much of your philanthropy to creating opportunities for kids to play sports. [In partnership with Icy Hot, the Shaquille O'Neal Foundation will donate up to $300,000 to restore local basketball courts in Las Vegas and Newark.] What has having that opportunity yourself meant for you?

It's just all about helping those in need and giving them better opportunities. You never know — the next Kobe, LeBron or Shaq could be walking by a court one day and decide not to play because the courts are not in good condition. Coming up, I've always had courts that were in pretty good condition, but on the military base [his stepfather was an Army sergeant], our courts were flawless, so I could always go out there and work on the game.

Gaming is something a lot of people do to switch off and unwind. How do you unwind after a stressful day?

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Any favorite shows?

What'd I watch? It was a movie about a blind man and they broke into his house... I also watched a movie called Snake Eyes. I'm watching a series called Revenge.

Do you have any other therapeutic practices that help you prioritize your mental health?

I just take it easy, watch TV. I'm a creature of habit. I work, work out and then just go home and rest. Resting for me is just sitting down and watching TV or taking it easy.

You just gave an interview in which you said that you don't want to be known as a celebrity anymore because they're all "out of their minds." What do you credit with keeping you grounded?

Just knowing that at any moment it could all be taken away from me. I've always followed certain principles, like, it costs you nothing to be nice. If you're nice, I have to be nice — that's just the law. I treat others as I expect them to treat me... If you're going to treat me with a smile out of respect, I must return the favor. I must treat you that way and not [say], "Get away from me! I made $200 million last year — leave me, earthling!" That's not the way to treat people.

There's so many categories of celebrity nowadays and it's all getting out of control, so I don't want to have anything to do with it. That's why I denounce [my fame]. I watched Superman II, when he fell in love with Lois Lane and he went back to the ice thing and gave his powers back. That's what I'm doing.

Do you have a mantra or a piece of advice that you turn to when you're having a tough day?

"It could be worse." I remember I used to always be a spoiled brat about my little injuries [mimics crying]. And then I went to Walter Reed ... and [saw] guys with loss of limbs and everybody was smiling. And I saw a guy that had lost both his legs and his arms... this guy wanted to go back to war.

At that moment I decided, you know what? Stop being a brat. You've got all these doctors and all this treatment and all this stuff. This guy's got no arms and no legs and he's over there smiling and laughing. And you're worried about a little toe injury...

It could always be worse. I live here in Vegas and when I ride and I see people living on the street — that's pressure. We don't have pressure. We work, we have whatever we want. Those people who don't know where their next meal is coming from? That's pressure. So that's why I love really love taking care of homeless people. I don't complain about nothing. Everybody has good and bad days, but if I have a bad day, I just worry about the solution as opposed to the problem.

On top of these charitable initiatives, you make it a practice to regularly do random acts of kindness. Can you share a little bit about that?

I don't really like bragging on it because I don't do it for that. It's just that, whenever I see something that touches me, I'll take care of it. My favorite place to do that in is Best Buy. I love Best Buy. My last [act of kindness] was [when I saw] a guy come in — husband and wife, two kids — and the guy gets, like, a 55- inch TV and was so happy. It was one of those Smart TVs. And that was only $300, $400. But the 85-inch cost $900.

So I said, "Hey man, what you doing with that TV?" He said, "Man, we've been saving up. I want to get this TV for the family." I said, "Don't worry about it, get the 85." "Huh?" "Bro, just get the 85." For me, to watch him take care of his family... I have 105, but to see somebody so happy over [a smaller TV] kinda made me, again, feel like a little spoiled brat...

I like to be able to just go and do stuff like that. I don't ever plan it; whenever I feel it, I'll just take care of it.

What stresses you out?

Nothing. Because again, it could always be worse. Nothing stresses me out. I may act stressed out here and there, but nothing really stresses me out. Once I've sat down and looked at the totality of the situation, nothing stresses me out.

Video: Shaquille O'Neal on high school athlete safety

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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