Deprived of Repping Michael Jordan Due to Poverty, Shaquille O’Neal Admits How MJ Inspired Latest Pepsi Endorsement

Published 11/21/2023, 6:00 AM EST

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Shaquille O’Neal has been open about the struggles of being bigger than the average teen while family resources were scarce. This future president of Reebok would never own the most desired pair of Air Jordan sneakers, owing to his larger-than-average shoe size. However, Shaq’s childhood experiences would give birth to an interesting concept behind his new campaign with Pepsi.

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The god of spokespersons, Shaq, became a commercial superstar with Pepsi. Three decades later, the brand and the brand maker are back together in a creative way. While Pepsi packs it with wit and humor, the inspiration was a little more heartrending than that.

Shaquille O’Neal never got a pair of Jordans

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After the Big Slam campaign that changed the advertising business, PepsiCo and Shaquille O’Neal produced a new commercial. This time the 7’1″ giant imagines himself in a scenario where he’s a normal-sized human. O’Neal admitted that he’s had that thought many times, especially when he was younger.

I was like, you know what? Let me do it. And sometimes I do wish I was a regular-sized guy. Like, when I was young,” he’d reveal the backstory behind the commercial’s concept to Yahoo.

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By age 16, Shaq was already 6’10”. He’s been open about his family’s financial struggles when he was young, especially when they had to keep up with his large stature. Necessities took priority over certain luxuries, but sometimes, as Shaq would recall, his mother would sacrifice important things for herself to ensure her kids were happy.

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Some things weren’t accessible to Shaq and his siblings. “You see all those Jordans on your wall? Probably the only superstar who never had a pair of Jordans. Think about that,” O’Neal said.

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He’d elaborate that he was a high school student when Michael Jordan’s signature shoes were released in His Airness’ first year as a rookie. Teenage Shaq wore size 17 shoes and there just weren’t any size 17 Air Jordans. That wasn’t the only obstacle. “And if I did find them, I wasn’t going to be able to pay $200 for them. So I’ve never had a pair of Jordans. I would have liked to have a pair of Jordans growing up to be in that little cool factor.”

He could afford any number of Jordans once he became a bonafide NBA star. But O’Neal would sign with Reebok instead and be their first athlete to drop a signature shoe. He’s back to the brand now as the president of the basketball division alongside Allen Iverson.

He’s enjoying feeling average-sized through the Pepsi mini-can now. However, he remains the biggest man ever for helping other kids like him.

Shaq makes kindness go a long way

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It’s a story he’s shared multiple times before. Teenage Shaq needed a pair of dress shoes for a school dance. His father, Philip Harrison, called Bruce Teilhaber, a shoemaker in Atlanta who created footwear sized up to 26. The problem though, the single pair of shoes would set the family back $200 they couldn’t afford.

Teilhaber solved that problem instantly. “Bruce said ‘Hey Sarge, I know who your son is, he’s going to be an NBA player. When he makes it to the NBA, just make sure he comes buy his shoes from me,’” O’Neal said on The Jennifer Hudson Show.

Shaq not only paid him back with his loyalty for 30 years, he bought another 10 pairs of size 23 shoes for a Georgia teen from Bruce. Another 14-year-old from Michigan got 10 pairs of size 23 Reebok shoes from Shaq this year. Ahead of Thanksgiving, O’Neal promised a pair of Reebok sneakers to at least 160 kids of the South LA chapter of the Boys and Girls Club.

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Can’t get bigger than Shaquille O’Neal when it comes to being generous. But we can still imagine. What would you do if you were Shaq-sized?

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Written by:

Caroline John

1,059Articles

One take at a time

I was 7 when I saw 'Space Jam' but didn't know till the third rewatch the lead actor is actually a living basketball legend. It was while studying journalism that my friend would go on about the Warriors from Golden State. Keen on athletes' personas outside their arenas, it was Stephen Curry's confidence and philanthropy that drew me to follow the news on NBA pros and explore sports media.
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Edited by:

Pragya Vashisth

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