Shaquille O’Neal with mother, Lucille O’Neal
Lucille O’Neal was just out of high school when her first son, former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, was born. As an awkward teen of 17, she knew nothing about motherhood. She was tall (6’2”), self-conscious, and angry at times. Raised by a grandmother who showed love through tough discipline, Lucille struggled with her self-esteem. Her mother was humbler, sweeter. “I learned how to speak love and how to show love by what I did,” she says. I spoke with Lucille about her life’s journey, as a parent and a woman.
What did being a teen mother teach you?
Shaquille and I grew up together. I learned about sacrificing what I wanted so my son could get what he needed. I went on welfare for a time, and then got a job. Since Shaquille’s father wasn’t around, I had to stand on my own financially. I took responsibility for my child, I didn’t hand him over to my mother or grandmother. That made me a better person.
You married Shaq’s stepfather when he was 6, and had three more children. How did you foster Shaq’s athletic ability?
I didn’t know how good my son was initially. He played baseball, basketball, and football. But slowly, we realized he had a gift we needed to nurture. Knowing he had a dream to play in the NBA, we put him in AAU play, made sure his grades were good so he could get a scholarship, and worked together as a family. He worked so hard to accomplish his goals. I was proud that he never quit. Our job as parents is to get out of the way of our children.
Don’t stifle your children’s growth, empower them. Stand behind them, push, and pray.
When Shaq was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992, you soon realized it wasn’t just your son in the spotlight, but you as well. What was the impact?
For 20 years, people only knew me as Shaq’s mama. But I wanted them to know me, my dreams, that I am more than somebody’s mother. My book is my testimony: Walk Like You’ve Got Somewhere to Go: From Mental Welfare to Mental Wealth.
In your book, you talk about overcoming numerous challenges, including alcoholism. What enabled you to stop drinking?
I got tired of being sick, of having hangovers in the morning. I began to lose my memory. And I didn’t want to embarrass Shaquille. I didn’t want people to see Shaq’s mother as a drunk. I was using his money to buy the best liquor. The world was paying more attention and I needed to give them something positive to look at. You have to make up your mind that you’re going to better yourself. I wasn’t a bad mother, but I had demons. I needed to be delivered from alcohol. Now I’ve been single for 15 years and I’m having a love affair with myself and the Lord.
What impact have your children had on your life?
I shared with them that I wanted to write a book, to return to school, to become a motivational speaker. It took many years to find the courage to do those things.
I was so used to caring for my children I had put me on the back burner. But during my 40s [following my divorce], Shaq paid for my college education and put me in touch with people who could help me write my book. In doing that, in finding my voice, I discovered I was stronger than I knew. Now I’m in a better place — in mind, body, and soul. I’m so happy.
What’s your message to young parents?
It’s not the end of the world to have a baby at a young age. Just don’t stop dreaming, always look forward. And put your faith in God.
Have Your Spirit Raised
Hear motivational speaker Lucille O’Neal
Morning of Hope fundraiser for HopeWorks. Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 8:30 a.m. Woodland Hills Event Center. $60/person, $600/table of 10. • WhyHopeWorks.org or call 272-3700