Shaq and Dale Doc of the Week

Shaq and Dale

Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal returns to his roots to spend time with Dale Brown, his former coach at Louisiana State University. The pair, who have retained a close friendship for over 30 years, reminisce about old times at LSU where O’Neal was a two-time All American and double SEC Player of the Year winner. BT Sport 3, Thur, Sep 7th 04.15.

Measuring a mere 7ft 1in in height and weighing in at over 320lbs, O’Neal is one of the greatest basketball players ever to step onto a court. During his 19-year professional career, he won four NBA championships in addition to a host of other awards and accolades. He was named on the NBA’s 50th anniversary team in 1996 and was a 15-time All-Star selection. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

O’Neal first came across LSU’s basketball coach in the early 1980s when he was just 13. He was living on an army base in Germany where his stepfather was stationed and asked the visiting Brown for some fitness tips. An instant bond was forged which may have influenced his decision to attend LSU later where he pursued a degree in business studies.

Brown had been coaching the Tigers, the college’s basketball team, since 1972 and was already a legendary figure on campus when the shy Texas-born O’Neal arrived in 1989. Brown led LSU to two Final Fours and finished his career with one of the best records in SEC history. He immediately took the youngster under his wing and O'Neal has received at least one letter or e-mail from his former coach every week from that day to this.

Remembering the old times

Directed by ESPN’s Hannah Storm and narrated by country music superstar and Louisiana native Tim McGraw, Shaq and Dale documents O’Neal’s return to campus where he revisits some of his favourite haunts with Brown and the pair discuss their memories of key events from their time together as coach and player.

They visit Broussard Hall, the building where the Tigers players lived and even find O'Neal's old room. Here they re-enact what happened the only time the youngster ever decided to skip class. O'Neal fondly recalls Brown waking him up with a tap on the chest before sending him to the track where he made him run for what seemed like hours.

"I think I did about 30 laps," O'Neal remembers. "Never again did he miss class," Brown said. "In fact, his freshman year, the highest GPA on the team was Shaquille O'Neal's."

The pair also visit O’Neal’s favourite bench on campus where he'd while away the time watching the girls go by thinking about whether or not he was good enough to make the grade in the NBA. "At times when I'd get down on myself and say, 'Am I really good enough to make the pros?' I would just sit here and dream," O'Neal remembers. "I was never convinced."

Big games

They also talk about some of the big games the pair were involved in, including one particularly close 148-141 overtime win over Loyola-Marymount where O'Neal finished with a remarkable 20 points, 24 rebounds and 12 blocked shots.

"That game was the first time in college I played a guy I couldn't break,” he says. “Hank Gathers - I probably blocked his shot eight times. He just kept coming back. He comes up to me (at the start of overtime) and says: 'This will be five minutes of war.' Did this guy really just try to intimidate me? So now I'm giving guys the look 'Give it (the ball) to me.' You can criticize. You can judge me. One thing you will never ever be able to do, ever, is intimidate me."

Another big game was LSU's 99-89 win over Tennessee in the 1992 SEC Tournament when a Tennessee player tried to yank O'Neal to the floor. That started a melee in which Brown charged at the offender. The SEC claimed Brown had entered the court with a clenched fist and duly suspended him. He countered that was only trying to protect his player.

At the end of the piece O’Neal tells Brown that he never would have made it to the big time without his help, that everything he has he owes to his former coach. It’s a touching moment which is indicative of a deep mutual respect that has endured for almost 30 years.

Images: Getty

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