Shaquille O’Neal comes from ‘a different era’ on how to handle abusive fans

JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images
JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images /

Shaquille O’Neal and Sloane Stephens have both been taunted many times but learned to never react to what was being said in the crowd.

It wasn’t always a pleasant experience for Shaquille O’Neal when he was on the basketball court.

O’Neal was a fan favorite in most NBA arenas — with perhaps the rare exception of Sacramento when the Lakers and Kings were rivals —  but not as much when he was in the early stages of becoming a hoop icon.

High school basketball was at Robert G. Cole (San Antonio, Texas). The fan memories were not all pleasant.

“I can remember one time, I went to a little high school and somebody dropped the word and I wanted to go into the stands and fight,” O’Neal told FanSided in an interview alongside tennis star Sloan Stephens. “My father pulled me to the side and said I want to show you something.”

A history lesson was taught to young Shaq from stepfather Phillip Harrison on the challenges his predecessors Bill Russell, Jackie Robinson, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and so many others had endured.

Russell had his house vandalized in Boston. Robinson was mercilessly taunted on the field when he was allowed to play Major League Baseball. Black players in all sports were denied staying in hotels where their white teammates were welcomed. And so on and so forth.

“He showed me all the stuff that Kareem and Bill Russell and Jackie Robinson had to endure,” O’Neal said. “But his point was, we block it out. And you shut them up by making them respect you as a man. Now, this is 2022, fans know what they are doing, they are better. It’s not that they like or dislike us, they want their team to win and they’re going to do whatever it takes to get their team to win.”

Times have indeed changed as have athlete reactions to the unruly fans. Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook both lashed back at NBA fans at different points this season “who had crossed the line.” O”Neal is “not from that era.”

Even Shaquille O’Neal had a line a fan wouldn’t want to cross

There is one line you could have crossed with O’Neal where the response would have been unfiltered.

“If you come on that court cost I am going to have to put this two-piece on you,” O’Neal said. “Other than that, stay up there, say what you say. Talk about me, talk about my momma it doesn’t bother me because at the end of the game I’m gonna shut you up and I’m going to smile in your face. If Kareem and all these guys endured all this stuff, and think about Bill Russell couldn’t even stay in certain hotels. So if he had to go through that, and they compare me to him, I want to go through that.”

Tennis star Sloane Stephens echoed O’Neal’s thoughts on how to handle unruly fans which has happened at tennis venues and especially on social media to Stephens.

“The the only thing it’s just let the racket do the talking,” Stephens said. “There’s no reason to address all of these things because you just have to show them with your game right? There’s no reason to go back and forth. You’re spending energy on things that are not important. You could be spending that on your game. So I think the best quote that I’ve ever seen is let the racket do the talking.”

Easier said than done.

Stephens and O’Neal both deserve respect for trying to stay above the fray. There can also be understanding given to today’s players who have the additional challenge of staying away from the noise with social media ever-present.

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Shaquille O’Neal and Sloane Stephens have partnered with Icy Hot and their new Icy Hot Squad reminding all what it’s like to rise from pain and overcome adversity.