This past week, former NBA ballplayer Shaquille O’Neal could be seen wandering around South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas; meeting entrepreneurs, checking out the latest start-ups, buying gadgets, and sharing his opinions on pretty much everything. He also seemed to be enjoying himself. “I’m the world’s tallest geek” he said.
I’ve always appreciated Shaq’s humor, however I have never seen him as anything but another former athlete out in the world leveraging his celebrity and shilling for random products. Yet, as I listened to this interview on TechCrunch TV, and did some more reading about what O’Neal has done off the court, I came away with a 180-degree impression.
Here is some new learning about him:
On Building Partnerships. "Hire people smarter than you. I was always a person who was able to relate to people. I was trying to partner up with people who are way, way smarter than me. I'm calm because I have great partners. . . They make life very, very easy for me.”
On Thinking Big. "I look for big dreamers, people like me," he has said. Social consciousness is also on his checklist. In his companies and investments, he said, he's looking to "help people, inspire people and change the world. "If you go to a venture capitalist, look like you believe in your product," he said. "Love your product, don't ever take no for an answer.
On Curiosity. "I've always wanted to be the one that's on the edge of the technological curve. I always wanted to be ahead of everybody else. The great Steve Jobs, rest in peace, when the iPhone was first coming out, I used to call him every other day. Can I please get one first? Can I please get one first? He never gave me one. He said, 'Shaq, I can't, I can't, I can't.' He was a great guy."
On Managing His Brand. “We control our own marketing. Every commercial you've seen me in for the past 20 years has been written by me, except the ones on TNT. The way I write them is, I either want you to be informed or I want to make you laugh. If I'm doing a Pepsi commercial, I need you to say, "Did you see that crazy Pepsi commercial Shaq did?"
On Investing. Magic Johnson told Shaq in 1996, "It's okay to be famous and be well liked, but you got to start owning things." He took that advice to heart and has since invested in Tout, Vitaminwater, Five Guys (155 franchises), an early investor in Google, and built a “triple retirement portfolio” of many other companies.
On Learning, Humility, and Re-Invention. This might be the most eye opening of Shaquille O’Neal’s qualities. So, here’s a guy who has four NBA championship rings, 15 all-star selections, and many, many other accolades and accomplishments. Yet instead of hitting the pause (or reverse) button, he moves forward in surprising ways. He gets an MBA online, in the midst of winning an NBA championship with the Lakers. He then pursues a doctorate in leadership and education. He re-invents himself as a tech-loving entrepreneur and shows up at SWSX 2013 with a tie and a short-sleeved shirt checking out the latest techie geegaws and start-ups. Wow!
In the first place, I have completely misjudged Shaquille O’Neal. Without knowing much about him, I had lumped him into the ex-jock box: quotable, resting on his celebrity laurels, and most likely on the pathway toward the sordid and depressing denouement of many other former athletes who squander their millions on baubles and excess. Shame on me!
To the contrary, here’s a guy who has completely recast himself: followed his curiosity and passions toward something even bigger, is continually and constantly learning, surrounded himself with an advisory board of whiz kids, and generally seems to be having fun with it all. Nice example for all of us…ex-athletes, entrepreneurs, and financial advisors especially.
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