SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
January 21, 1991
LSU's Shaquille O'Neal is already the next great center. And he's only 18
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 21, 1991

Shack Attack

LSU's Shaquille O'Neal is already the next great center. And he's only 18

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

"No rank. I'm 13 years old," O'Neal answered.

"Uh, your dad around?" asked Brown.

Harrison, or The Sergeant, as Brown always refers to The Shack's 6'5", 280-pound drill instructor father, is from Newark and played some junior college ball before he "messed up and didn't take care of business." After joining the Army and getting married, he was posted back and forth overseas until the family—which includes daughters LaTeefah, 13, and Ayesha, 12, and son Jamal, 11 and already 5'2"—settled in San Antonio, where The Shack led Cole High to a 68-1 record over two years. As for The Shack's given names, Lucille O'Neal gave him her maiden name while Harrison picked the others. In Arabic, Shaquille means "little one" and Rashan means "warrior"; that leaves The Sergeant batting .500.

"All you have to do is see Shaquille around his dad—he's 'yes sir, no sir,' and that's it—to know how he got so tough and disciplined," says LSU forward Vernel Singleton.

"In junior high in Germany I fought kids all the time," says O'Neal. "I had such a bad temper, I almost got thrown out of school. A few lickings from my dad got me out of that scene. He wore me out with a paddle."

"I always told Shaquille the world has too many followers. What he needed to be was a leader," says Harrison. "He'd see guys hanging out on the corner, and he'd know they were followers. I told him I'd whup him rather than have the guys on the corner whup him. I told him there's no half-steppin' in this life."

Harrison once grabbed Shaquille at halftime of a high school game that the kid was dominating and ordered him to tuck in his uniform shirttail. And he once lectured an NCAA investigator who was snooping around Cole High and rebuked him for what Harrison called "unprofessionalism." Harrison says that his son will not leave school early, that he will finish his eligibility at LSU. "Money is materialistic," he says. "What Shaquille needs is spiritualistic. We want him to get an education so he doesn't need basketball."

Who do you take in the when-will-The-Shack-turn-pro tug of war? The Denver Nuggets or The Sergeant?

Merely grabbing a glimpse of this gargantuan Greek-god Goliath—beat that, Vitale!—is enough to forget for a moment that O'Neal is still a kid. "I don't ever want to grow up," he says. "I guess I'm like Peter Pan. Grown-ups have problems. I want to stay happy."

As a team comedian, The Shack shares a background and closeness with his new teammate, Hansen—a transfer from Tennessee-Martin and the son of a traveling P.E. instructor for the U.S. Defense Department. They work for the same construction company in Baton Rouge in the summer and drive the same kind of van.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4