Several anecdotes, stories and opinions have been released in advance of Shaquille O’Neal’s new book, which is due out next week. O’Neal has always been a great source for funny stories and was the driving force for entertainment for the 1990s and 2000s. The man was larger than life.
There is a dark side to O’Neal’s life. It was not just limited to his on and off-court squabbles with Kobe Bryant. Growing up in a military family, you could imagine it would be a tough life. O’Neal’s family was already unsettled as they moved around a lot wherever O’Neal’s father went.
You could imagine though that a man who himself grew up in a military family and a believed in discipline wanted to instill that kind of sense of duty in his children. There are right ways and wrong ways to go about parenting to instill that ethic.
It is very very very clear that O’Neal’s father, Phillip Harrison, took it the wrong way. Jackie MacMullen, who co-wrote the book with O’Neal, details one of the darker chapters in the book with Jason Whitlock of FoxSports.com (h/t to Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk):
“It gets lost in the shuffle because people want to talk about Kobe, Pat Riley, and LeBron and all these other famous people, but another fascinating part of this book is his father. ‘Sarge,’ Phillip Harrison, who, frankly, abused him all the way through his life. Physically abused him, beat the living daylights out of him at every turn…
“We’re not talking about spanking. We’re talking about a belt. Beating him badly. Something that disturbed his mother greatly. Of course, Shaq’s mom and his dad aren’t together any more. I think that’s in part why. Sarge was a military guy, that’s how his father raised him, and that’s how he was going to raise his son. I don’t think he thinks there’s anything wrong with it still. Shaq understands it, his dad was ‘trying to help’ him. He believed his dad had the best intentions, so Shaq gives him a pass on it. As a reader, you can’t help but go, ‘Wow, this is tough, this is over the top.’….
“His father came home from work one night, Shaq is sitting there, he punches Shaq in the face. Shaq says, ‘Well, what’s that for?’ [Harrison] said, ‘We’re going to see this guy play basketball. We’re going to see him play tonight. He plays in the NBA. You’re messing around, you’re goofing around, you’re not serious about your game. This guy makes $15 million and he can’t play at all. And we’re going to go see him.’ Punches him again and takes him to go see Jon Koncak play basketball and says, ‘See, if you applied yourself, you could be in the NBA making $15 million.’ You can say that’s a good story, it makes my skin go pale, and I’m pretty pale to begin with.”
There are certainly changes in what is socially and culturally acceptable ways of parenting. As MacMullen notes, Harrison might truly believe this was not abuse because he was raised in a similar manner and it was accepted. Clearly though, that kind of parenting is no longer acceptable. And it is good to hear Shaq says in the book that he would not raise his children in this manner.
Perhaps more surprisingly, O’Neal credits his father for making him the man he is and he maintains a healthy relationship with his father. He praises him throughout the book.
This is a complex issue that is probably not best for commenting on this site. But O’Neal turned out OK, both on and off the court despite this abuse when he was a child. It is a testament to the person he is.