lev radin/shutterstock
lev radin/shutterstock

I still remember it. South Beach, 2005. Family vacation. Hotel lobby. Standing at 7’ 1’, there he was, then Miami Heat star Shaquille O’Neal. Literally and figuratively, his presence looms large.

The Jersey-born hall of famer spent his most productive years with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning three championships alongside co-superstar Kobe Bryant. And with a keen entertainer’s eye, O’Neal has stayed in the spotlight as a co-host of the uber-popular “Inside the NBA” on TNT for the last decade—including his own original twist on NBA bloopers, Shaqtin’ a Fool. Don’t forget about his rapping days. Or even the 2D Sega Genesis game Shaq Fu.

These sharp business decisions and his steady pay through Turner Sports have secured O’Neal a net worth of $400 million by some estimates.

But what about Shaq phil?

O’Neal engages in philanthropy through the Shaquille O’Neal Foundation, which creates pathways for underserved youth to help them achieve their full potential. Count the retired NBA player as another athlete laser-focused on education and youth in his giving. This particular giving interest amongst athletes is worth emphasizing, and for many NBA players who grew up in inner-city communities, empowering underprivileged youth is motivated by deeply personal forces.

Born in Newark, O’Neal credits the local Boys & Girls Clubs of America with giving him a safe place to play and keeping him off the streets. He later went on to play for Louisiana State University before he was drafted by the Orlando Magic, quickly emerging as one of the most promising centers in the league.

The O’Neal Foundation was founded just a few years ago in 2019. But what kinds of organizations does O’Neal support through his charity? And what should we expect from his giving going forward? Here’s a quick rundown:

1. A focus on youth

These days, O’Neal takes up residence in Atlanta and Las Vegas, two early important sites of his giving. “I can personally show up at any time. I like to live amongst the people,” O’Neal told Forbes. Unsurprisingly, a big early partner was Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which supports programs and projects targeting underserved youth. He also serves on the national board of Communities in Schools, another early partner.

In 2020, the foundation collaborated with Icy Hot to give $320,000 in grant dollars to Title 1 high schools whose sports programs were impacted by the pandemic. Programs touched by this philanthropy included schools in Mississippi, Nevada, Georgia and California. The O’Neal Foundation also worked with American Express to provide $10 million in pandemic aid to Black-owned businesses.

The foundation’s Shaq-to-School—there goes another Shaqism—provides basic school supplies for kids from underprivileged backgrounds. The annual Shaq-a-Claus, meanwhile, has provided tens of thousands of toys, clothing items and meals to children in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston and New Jersey, among other cities.

2. O’Neal is bringing in trusted leadership

So far, the O’Neal Foundation lists just two staffers, including Executive Director Kari Uyehara, who once helped steer tennis legend Andre Agassi’s foundation. Still, the foundation boasts a board of directors with a few dozen members, including billionaire Elaine Wynn, and Jeanie Buss, owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers, who developed a relationship with both Kobe Bryant and Shaq. O’Neal also tapped Mike Parris, one of his agents, and Lester Knispel, a top Hollywood business manager. Knispel, O’Neal says, has been teaching him about the value of money since he was a teen.

“These people that are smarter than me, people who I definitely respect and people that, when we’re in the meeting, they’re definitely going to have a lot to say, and I will definitely listen,” O’Neal once said.

3. This may be just the beginning

O’Neal, 49, made a quick transition from top-flight player to successful media personality. And with a busy, long-running gig with Turner sports, the philanthropic bandwidth O’Neal has now may pale in comparison to the time he has down the line. In the meantime, his work in youth philanthropy is likely to grow.

Beyond that, he’s also been supportive of law enforcement, though has also spoken about police reform. “There definitely needs to be reform—reforming some of the laws, reforming some of the tactics and reforming policing itself,” O’Neal once told USA TODAY Sports.