On Feb. 13, Shaquille O’Neal will become the first Orlando Magic player to ever have a jersey number retired
“It actually makes me sad and I'm going to tell you why. The guy that created all this passed away about nine, 10 years ago,” O’Neal tells PEOPLE, referring to his stepfather Phillip Harrison, who died in September 2013 after a series of health issues. “My mom will be there, so this is more their moment than it is mine.”
Growing up, O’Neal admired his stepfather, who was an army sergeant. Harrison even coached O’Neal’s youth basketball teams. At the time, O’Neal was far from a future basketball stud and more of “a medium juvenile delinquent.”
“I could have went and left easily and not even been noticed to the world,” O’Neal says. Instead, he listened to Harrison and followed his direction.
"When I was getting laughed at in high school for not being able to dunk, my father would just take me and we'd do the army military training and he'd just whisper encouragement in my ear,” O’Neal recalls.
He adds that Harrison “would just throw these names out there. I knew Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He kept saying, ‘I'm going to make you bigger than Kareem.’ ”
When O’Neal got injured playing football, his father brought in a news article about a very run-of-the-mill NBA basketball player making $15 million. Harrison even took his soon-to-be-famous stepson to watch that $15 million man play in person, and O’Neal felt like he was already better than the pro player.
“That moment right there just made me turn to a basketball,” O’Neal says.
O’Neal also has an affinity for former Magic owner Richard DeVos, who drafted the center out of Louisiana State University in 1992.
“I remember when I met with him, he said, ‘Hey, you’re going come in and we'll pay you a lot of money and we're going to have fun. Are you ready for that pressure?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. DeVos, I'm ready,’ ” O’Neal shares.
DeVos passed in September 2018 at the age of 92.
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O’Neal ended up playing four years for the Magic, winning Rookie of the Year in 1993 and guiding the team to the NBA Finals in the 1995-1996 season.
“It was a great four years, so I'm happy,” he says of his time with the team. “But if I had one wish, I wish those two could be there, Rich DeVos and Phillip Harrison.”
A 15-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA Finals MVP, O’Neal had his jersey retired by the Lakers in 2013 and by the Heat in 2016. He will be only the second player in NBA history to have his jersey retired by three separate teams, according to NBC Los Angeles. NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain was the other.
O’Neal was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2016.
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