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Shaq opens up about his love for Newark, Shareef O’Neal, and a ‘scrappy’ NBA Finals

Shaq brings love to his hometown of Newark, NJ by teaming up with IcyHot to refurbish local basketball courts through his Comebaq Courts program. 

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – JUNE 13: Shaquille O’Neal interacts with young participants as The Shaquille O’Neal Foundation & Icy Hot unveil “Comebaq Court” on June 13, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)

Only the biggest NBA legends are known mononymously, which is why Newark native Shaquille O’Neal is known throughout the world simply as “Shaq.”

Shaq’s name brings a gravitas to all that he does, which is why when the NBA legend turned his attention to his hometown, it drew attention from the mayor of New Jersey’s capital city.

Shaq has been a longtime ambassador of IcyHot, so when the brand came to him and asked him about a partnership with his foundation, he thought back to the courts that made him who he was: a local court in Newark, New Jersey.

“I’ve been in business with IcyHot for years, and they do a lot in the community, seen and unseen. So when they asked me what was very important to me, I said I would like to refurbish some courts, so we started the IcyHot Comebaq Courts Initiative” O’Neal said.

“It gives kids the chance to follow their dreams,” O’Neal continued. “This is where it all started for me,” he said, gesturing to the newly-adorned blue and red court. “Hopefully, we can find the next LeBron, the next great NBA player. This right here kept me out of trouble. By the time I got done playing, I was too tired to do anything else.”

After the grand opening of his premier Comebaq Court, Shaq spoke with FanSided about what this moment means to him: as a Newark native, as a father watching his son Shareef O’Neal join the NBA Draft, and as a lauded TNT analyst watching a “scrappy” NBA Finals series.

A conversation with Shaq, a basketball legend from Newark to LSU

FanSided: You’ve been there for IcyHot for years as the face of the brand. What does it mean to have IcyHot support you and your foundation in creating Comebaq Courts?

Shaq: IcyHot has been with me since my playing days. It feels great that the people I’ve worked with for the last 20 years are supporting the causes that are important to me. This is a true partnership.

FanSided: You’re an international icon known mononymously as Shaq, but to these kids, you’re also Shaquille, who grew up in Newark just like them. What’s it like connecting with these kids through a love of the game? How does it remind you of your own childhood?

Shaq: Growing up in this city and playing ball on these streets is what made me Shaq. That’s why I wanted to build this court and make it so these kids have somewhere safe and nice to come play and discover the game that I love. Who knows, maybe the next LeBron or Kobe will grow up playing on this court.

FanSided: Since living in New Jersey, you’ve lived everywhere from Germany to Texas to Los Angeles. What’s something special about the Newark community that remains with you to this day?

Shaq: There are hard-working people all across the country, but there’s something different about this city. People can’t wait to prove you wrong, show you that this is a great city. They have a sense of pride for their community that I haven’t seen many other places.

FanSided: One of the communities that is special to you and your family is the LSU community, where your son Shareef excelled before declaring for the NBA Draft. What does it mean for you and your son to share that LSU legacy? 

Shaq: Shareef is his own man and I’m proud of him for the way that he has approached his basketball career. I’m lucky that he chose LSU and we will forever have that connection.

FanSided: Shareef has grown up watching you in the league, and I’m sure there’s so much you’ve shared with him over the years. What’s one thing that you think Shareef will learn firsthand when he joins the NBA?

Shaq: Something that I’ve told him since he was little is that the work doesn’t stop when you think you’ve made it, in most ways it just gets harder. It’s when the real work starts. You are competing against the best of the best every day.

FanSided: Game 6 is coming up: what’s something you and Chuck disagree on as far as Game 6 predictions?

Shaq: I haven’t spoken to Chuck about Game 6, but he did choose the Celtics to win the series. I think he may be sweating that pick now.

FanSided: Who do you expect to take the series and why?

Shaq: It’s been a scrappy series. It’s always hard for me to go against my guy Steph, but it’s even harder to close out a finals series on the road. And then once you get to a Game 7, anything can happen.

FanSided: There’s often talk about how the ‘90s were a different era in the NBA compared to today. What would you like to see the next generation of basketball players bring back to the league?

Shaq: There’s too much crying and boohooing about the refs in the league today. I want the young kids coming up to realize sometimes things don’t go your way and just play through it.

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