It doesn’t matter if you are over 7 foot tall. It doesn’t even matter if you are a former NBA superstar: if you keep secrets from your nearest and dearest then you can expect to pay the consequences. And for basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, those consequences, dished out by his then wife Shaunie, were shocking to say the least.
O’Neal enjoyed a spectacular career in the NBA. Affectionately known as “Shaq,” his persona transcended the court as he appeared in movies and various TV shows, even embarking on a successful hip hop career. But as a husband O’Neal wasn’t quite as successful. And once Shaunie discovered the truth, there was nothing that could save the basketball legend from a seemingly spectacular humiliation.
Yet it all began so differently for the couple. O’Neal was already firmly established as a basketball star when he met his future wife in the late 1990s. He had burst onto the professional scene way back in 1992 as the number one draft pick for the Orlando Magic. In truth, many knew who he was before he joined the professional ranks.
Because O’Neal’s career had begun in earnest years before getting drafted into the NBA. Due to his jaw-dropping physique – 7ft 1’ and clocking in at well over 300 pounds – the New Jersey native had been earmarked for basketball greatness from a young age. Selected to the McDonald’s All-America team while a high school student, O’Neal was then a two-time All-America First Team selection at Louisiana State University.
So it certainly wasn’t a surprise when the Magic selected O’Neal as the number one pick in the first-round draft. And O’Neal took the big leagues by storm, winning the covered Rookie of the Year award at the end of his first season in Orlando. He also made the All-Rookie First Team and was selected for the prestigious All-Star game.
O’Neal’s second season saw individual achievements translate into team success. You see, The Magic were a relatively new franchise when O’Neal joined – only having been established in 1989. As yet, the team had failed to secure a winning regular season percentage in that short history. In O’Neal’s first year the team went for 41 wins and 41 losses. In his second, they went 50 and 32, reaching the postseason Playoffs for the first time.
In 1996 O’Neal secured a huge trade to the bright lights of Los Angeles. So the Hollywood player now had a Hollywood platform in the form of the Lakers. And it was around that time that O’Neal’s movie career began to take off. Yes, he appeared in movies including 1996’s Kazaam and 1997’s Steel. He also became a regular face in TV commercials and music videos.
Cementing his place as one of the highest-profile sports stars in America, O’Neal even embarked on a rap career. The former basketball star was still new to the professional game when he released 1993’s Shaq Diesel which sold more than a million copies. The follow up, Shaq Fu: Da Return went Gold.
O’Neal’s successful music career was not just down to the novelty factor, either. As Jake Lustick writes in Rolling Stone, “1990’s hip hop luminaries all saw enough in Shaq’s rap skills to lend their prodigious talents to his career, providing the big man with a legitimacy he may not have otherwise had.” These were heady times for “Shaq”: the basketball star, the rapper, the actor.
Shaunie O’Neal was born Va’Shaundya Nelson in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1974. As well as becoming Mrs. Shaquille O’Neal, Shaunie forged a successful career for herself, starring in reality TV series that she co-produced and wrote. Her credits include Basketball Wives, Shaunie’s Home Court and The First Wives Club.
Shaunie is an alumni of the University of Southern California, the state she moved to with her family when she was ten. So it was probably in California that Shaunie met and began dating O’Neal sometime in the late 1990s. Before long the couple welcomed their first child together, a son Shareef, who was born in January 2000. Just a year later their daughter, Amirah, arrived.
So O’Neal and Shaunie tied the knot in a lavish ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel in late 2002. At that time Shaunie was expecting the couple’s third child, son Shaquir, who was born in April 2003. And second daughter Mearah was born in 2006. As well as their four children together, O’Neal and Shaunie had a child each from their previous relationships. Therefore, it was a significant brood for them to raise.
But O’Neal and Shaunie’s relationship coincided with the most successful period of the basketball player’s career. As part of a L.A. Lakers team that included superstar Kobe Bryant and was coached by Phil Jackson, O’Neal became an NBA champion three years in succession between 2000 and 2002. It was a period of staggering dominance. Although was his home life going as well as his career?
As well as team accolades with the Lakers, O’Neal achieved phenomenal individual success. In the 1999-2000 season he was named Most Valuable Player (MVP). That year he would also win Finals MVP, a trick he repeated in both subsequent years. In that stellar 1999-2000 campaign he would even secure the Scoring Leader award.
Then in 2004 O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat where he teamed up with another superstar: Dwyane Wade. The pair successfully led the Heat to the franchise’s first-ever NBA crown in 2006. That was O’Neil’s fourth and final championship success. “Shaq” would subsequently move on to play for the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers, before finishing his career with the Boston Celtics in 2011.
So O’Neal retired a bona fide legend of the game. And in 2016 he was inducted into the prestigious Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, joining other greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Yet as his early movie and music careers had shown, he was far from just a basketball player. He’d turned his hand to all manner of pursuits, though, admittedly, some were healthier for his marriage than others.
You see, there is O’Neal the scholar: he acquired first a Masters and then a doctorate from Barry University in Florida. Then there is O’Neal the businessman: the star invested in restaurants, even purchasing his own branch of Krispy Kreme. Plus there have been forays into law enforcement. So there’s very little O’Neal hasn’t turned his hand to it seems.
In many respects, therefore, O’Neal isn’t your typical athlete. For example, the giant star admits to a love of verse, and not only for rapping. “I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal told the Associated Press. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.” In fact, O’Neal was one of the stars who participated in the TV series Poetry in America. Perhaps this was one of the qualities that made O’Neal such a draw for the ladies, and not just his wife.
There is genuine public adoration for O’Neal that can’t be explained solely by his achievements. Yes, the huge man endears himself to most who meet him. Writing for Bleacher Report in 2009, Chase Sandford perhaps summed it up best when he said, “Shaquille O’Neal has arguably been the best media personality in the entire NBA for around a decade now.”
And Sanford was not done there. “O’Neal is generally liked by the media for his humorous tone in interviews,” he added. Plus Sandford explained why the star had ended up with so many monikers. “Through his playful antics, his joking and cutting up with reporters, and always making his interviews appear on SportsCenter due to his humor, he has acquired many different nicknames through the years.”
With his charismatic nature, “Shaq” has forged a successful career as a presenter since he retired from the court. For almost ten years, he’s been a regular member of TNT’s popular Inside the NBA show. And he’s just as at home on screen as he ever was on the court.
Yet for all his success, O’Neal hasn’t quite had the same run of it in his personal life. Sadly, the former basketball star and Shaunie broke up in 2009 after seven years of marriage. But why exactly did the couple split? Was it the rigors of fame that brought the curtain down on the marriage?
It seems the main reason was O’Neal’s infidelity. Or perhaps that should be “infidelities.” Because O’Neal was a serial cheater. But if you feel sorry for Shaunie, you may be happier to know that Mrs. O’Neal far from accepted her husband’s indiscretions. Yes, this was a woman scorned who was determined to make her husband pay. And she did it in typical celebrity fashion – on TV.
Because Shaunie had become somewhat famous in her own right on the reality series Basketball Wives. The series centered around the lives of six women described as “best friends” who all share the fact that their partner is, or was, a basketball star. And Shaunie was a mainstay of the series from the show’s beginning in 2010 until 2019. So what exactly happened?
During a memorable episode of Basketball Wives, Shaunie opened up to co-star and friend Evelyn Lozada. And Shaunie described how she had found out about her husband’s infidelity, and what she did to gain revenge. It makes for an eye-opening watch and certainly paints Shaunie as anything but a passive victim.
Shaunie explains to Lozada how her discovery came about. “Our blackberries got switched. I went to my baby’s play at school and I was like ‘damn, my phone is going off a lot.’” It isn’t difficult to imagine what happens next. As Shaunie went on to explain, “Just girl, after girl, after girl like ‘baby last night what you did,’” Shaunie continues. Suddenly a new side to O’Neal had emerged.
“And I went in the arena and I went in that garage, not only did I flatten tires, bust a few windows, I wrote on the hood of his car, ‘I cheat on my wife. I ain’t sh*t’ with a knife’. I wrote it on the hood and down the side of the car,” Shaunie admits.
But Shaunie wasn’t done there. She was going to add to O’Neal’s humiliation. “He had to drive that sh*t on four flats, with the messages all around it. I drove right on the side of his ass [in a separate car] blowing the horn, ‘cause I wanted people to like see. Beep! Beep! The Whole ride, the whole ride,” she explains. You can just imagine the chaotic scene on the road.
So not one to take the cheating, Shaunie had exacted a public revenge on her husband. And then by detailing her actions on television, she’d further cemented the humiliation. A man of 7 feet must have felt incredibly small at that precise moment. Plus it was a startling revelation from the former Mrs. O’Neal – and probably not bad for the show’s ratings either.
But O’Neal himself has discussed his marital indiscretions. Yes, the star wrote about his infidelity in his 2011 autobiography Shaq Uncut: My Story. And that also detailed some of the lesser-known details of O’Neal’s life, such studying for a PhD and even becoming a reserve officer in the police. As we have seen, there has certainly been much more to the star’s life than just basketball.
Writing about his marriage to Shaunie and how it went wrong, O’Neal was candid in his admissions. “At one time my ex-wife Shaunie and I were happy, but I admit it – I was a guy,” the former Lakers player stated. And O’Neal went on to admit that he hadn’t been strong enough to resist some of the temptations of fame.
“I was a guy with too many options. Choosing to be with some of those women, well, that’s on me,” O’Neal admitted. “In my mind, I never did it disrespectfully, but obviously I shouldn’t have done it all.” So what had “Shaq” learned from the whole experience, if anything?
Well, at least the star seems to have taken responsibility for the collapse of the marriage. “You know as well as I do, relationships are about maintaining… It wasn’t the big stuff, it was the small stuff, and that’s my fault,” he added in Shaq Uncut: My Story. But that’s not all.
O’Neal has also admitted that he is trying to become a better partner as a result of his mistakes. “I had things to do. I was trying to win, trying to make some money. I admit I wasn’t the best partner. I just didn’t know how. I’m learning now,” he admitted.
At the time Shaq Uncut: My Story was released, the NBA Hall of Fame inductee was dating reality TV star Nicole Alexander, also known as “Hoopz.” Alexander had been the star of the series Flavour of Love where she’d won the heart of rapper Flava Flav. O’Neal and Alexander dated for two years between 2010 and 2012.
After Alexander, O’Neal wasn’t linked with anybody until being spotted with actor Annie Ilonzeh in 2019. Ilonzeh is best known for her portrayal of Emily Foster in the well-known NBC series Chicago Fire. Yet it seems there could, in fact, be another woman in O’Neal’s heart. None other than his ex-wife Shaunie.
Because Shaunie took to Instagram not long after the high-profile death of one her husband’s former teammates. Kobe Bryant was sadly killed in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others in January 2020. Accompanying an image of Shaunie wearing a Lakers sweater featuring Bryant’s two shirt numbers, the former Mrs. O’Neal posted an emotional tribute.
“When I put this sweatshirt on, so many emotions and memories ran through my mind. As I reflect on the last few months, I’m reminded to say I love you more, spend more time laughing, and less time trying to control what is out of my control!,” Shaunie wrote. “I pray you all are safe, enjoying your family and helping those who need a little more assistance during these times,” she added.
But then Shaunie’s ex-husband felt compelled to reply to the post. “And I love you more, Mrs. O’Neal,” the former basketball player wrote, at the same time tantalising fans with the idea that there could be a reunion. One fan wrote after that, “I love it, showing that you can still show love even if y’all aren’t together. I love you and Shaunie as a couple. You can make it happen, you’re superman.”
Whatever the truth, it appears O’Neal and Shaunie maintain a friendship that has outlasted their marriage. And that can only be good news for the couple themselves, not to mention the four children they share together. The demise of any marriage is a sad event, but O’Neal and Shaunie’s apparent friendship is still inspiring to many. So perhaps even after he reached 7 feet tall, “Shaq” has continued to grow.