Shaquille O’Neal: basketball legend, author, über geek [SXSW]

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Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal is many things — former basketball champ, actor, reality TV star, author — but a tech geek? Turns out he considers himself to be the world’s “tallest geek” actually. On his first visit to SXSW, O’Neal, in conversation with Brian Solis, revealed how it was computers and geeks that helped him with his A-game off the court and on social media.

Shaq told Monday’s audience his cheeky sense of humour wasn’t always appreciated by those around him. He relayed the story of how his forthright and at times wacky humour got him into trouble a lot, which he courted, and he subsequently became a juvenile deliquent. But it was being forced to learn computers that helped turn his life around. He said he’d grown up being told by others he was dumb, but discovering that he could actually comprehend what he was being taught in this class, he found that he was capable of more than he had been led to believe by those peers around him. “It was you geeks who made me realize I wasn’t as stupid as some people said,” he told the captivated crowd.

As such, Shaq’s interest in all things technological stems from a real appreciation for the field. The former b-baller has built up a solid social media presence, with almost seven-million followers on Twitter: “I use Twitter in this way: 60% to help people, 30% to make you laugh, and 10% to sell stuff.” He’s become so ingrained in the online way of life, that when he was to announce he had retired from the NBA, he did it via Tout, a social media startup that was only six weeks old at the time, and not through ESPN or another similar sports channel. He says he did so because he didn’t want to have to choose which one to favour and also because he wanted the community he had created to be the first to know. As a result, Tout’s value jumped tremendously, and he now has a bit of equity in it too.

Shaq has investments in, among others, Five Guys, Vitaminwater and Muscle Milk, but the first big break as an investor came when he backed Google before its IPO. When Shaq first invested in August 2004, Google’s stock was priced just over US$100 a share. At its current price, he is six times richer, just off the stock alone. He kept referring to this feat throughout the interview, but in his humorous, charming way. He is always looking out for new ideas to invest in, and requested people to send elavator-pitches him while here at SXSW. “I know some people,” he joked. “I’m big in the big hedge fund world, because of my big Google hit.”

He has the goods to back his talk though. Shaq earned his MBA online in 2005 (“cliffnotes.com,” he joked) and now has his Doctorate. But yet he still aims for more — half-joking, but with that look of intent, he told the audience he wants to go to law school too because he has always wanted to be a lawyer at a law firm called “O’Neale and O’Neale” (he would be both partners, he added).

For him, investing is all about “partnering with great people.” He said his strategy has always been to link up with “those who know more than me”, although he does advocate always doing one’s own due diligence. When investing, he looks for things that are simple, inspiring and have the potential to change the world.His advice for those who seek it is to have a good support system.

Shaq made hearts swoon when he said he met his best friend the day he was born — his mother — and that she always has a quote to help him through difficult patches, just as he knows his Dad supports him too. In keeping with his down-to-earth approach, he doesn’t have a bodyguard or an entourage: “I’m from San Antonio, and I’m still that guy from the same neighbourhood, I’m just lucky enough to have made it.”

Image: Keith Allison (via Flickr).

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