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Despite Crowned President of $2.5 Billion Brand, Shaquille O’Neal’s 30 Year Loyalty to One Craftsman Remains Undeterred: “We Couldn’t Afford Em”

Published 10/14/2023, 7:50 AM EDT

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USA Today via Reuters

The sneaker business has a new superstar. Shaquille O’Neal has made a historic new stride with one of the biggest players in the business. It marks the return to a global brand he previously walked away from. Though he’s going to lead the athleisure footwear trends once more, he himself sticks to his specific preferences. When he’s dressing classy, Shaq only trusts one person to deck his supersized feet. And he has no intention of changing that.

He’s revealed this story before with pride. One small businessman took a chance on Shaq’s future stardom for which the four-time champion is eternally grateful. Whatever shoe deal he signs, this craftsman will have Shaq’s loyalty.

Only one person dresses Shaquille O’Neal’s feet

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While Shaquille O’Neal was on ‘The Jennifer Hudson Show’ it was inevitable to talk about his size 22 feet. Jennifer Hudson knows the struggles of a parent looking for a shoe that fits their kid who is larger than most kids their age. Shaq too was bigger than most kids his age and he’s made no secret of everything his parents did to find him anything his size.

via Getty

These days the $400 million rich NBA star can afford to customize anything. Back when he was a child, it was a little difficult. When he was a large teen, he needed dress shoes for prom. His parents researched and found out about Bruce Teilhaber in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Bruce made and sold shoes that go up to size 26. Over three decades ago, a pair from him would’ve set the O’Neal family back $200. But before his playing days, Shaq confessed, “We couldn’t afford em.” Thankfully, Bruce told Shaq’s dad, Phillip Harrison, not to sweat it.

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 kept the promise.

He’s been a patron of Teilhaber’s store at least since his NBA career began. He’s bought at least 2000 pairs of shoes from him and counting.

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When the Lakers star heard of another Georgia teen who couldn’t afford shoes for his size 18 feet, he took the kid to Teilhaber too. Shaq bought 10 pairs for this kid and even boosted Bruce’s popularity.

Teilhaber would claim, “If you are in business and you know him, you’re going to be okay.” Certain global shoemakers took note.

Shaq – the footwear entrepreneur

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At the peak of his NBA career, Big Diesel became one of the faces of Reebok.

He had signature shoes under the brand like the Shaq Attaq. Bur Shaq rejected a $40 million extension after a random passerby scolded him for the exorbitant price tags on his shoes. After that, he launched a line of affordable shoes with Walmart.

O’Neal kept his patronage of Bruce Teilhaber through it the entire time. That relationship will remain intact as he returns to Reebok. He’s now the first president of the basketball division at Reebook. His rival-turned-friend, Allen Iverson is his vice president.

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Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal Send Shockwaves Through NBA World: What Is Their Role and Goals?

This is a historic deal for bot Shaq and AI. While it’s still unclear how involved they will be, fans anticipate that the duo will give a platform to underrated athletes. Just like Bruce Teilhaber saw a future star in Shaq, he recognizes a star too.

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Written by:

Caroline John

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One take at a time

Caroline John is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. She has been covering athletes outside the sports arena since the start of her reporting career. A writer at heart, she graduated with a degree in journalism from a reputed university.
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Edited by:

Aakash Nair