Shaquille O’Neal Unearths How Exhausted Epiphany Led to Newfound Respect Alongside NASCAR Legend

Published 11/19/2023, 11:26 PM EST

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He may have made an NBA legend or two quiver in terror and he’s had experience knocking out wrestlers. But one sport and its legend humbled Shaquille O’Neal pretty quickly. He’s celebrating the grand start of the Las Vegas Grand Prix with his onetime rival-turned-friend, David Beckham. The way Becks’ stardom changed Shaq’s opinion, NASCAR’s titan also didn’t need to do much to change O’Neal’s mind.

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A year ago, Shaq nearly dismissed David Beckham’s sport too. But Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the only reason Big Diesel carries big respect for sports of all kinds.

Shaquille O’Neal admitted defeat to Little E 

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The F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix was off to a spectacular start this weekend. Best friends across different ball pitches, Shaquille O’Neal and David Beckham, came together to host the Club SI party that prefaced the race. Both are superstar athletes in their own right with a shared interest in stock car racing too.

However, there was a time when the 4x NBA champion with a fleet of customized luxury cars didn’t believe driving cars was a real sport. Enter Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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I had a show a long time ago, Shaq Vs., and I raced Dale Earnhardt Jr. But before that, I said that these guys aren’t athletes,” The Los Angeles Lakers legend said at the Las Vegas event. “But after driving the car for… it wasn’t even a real race. We had a little track, but I was the most tired I’ve ever been.”

via Reuters

The NASCAR star converted Shaq, who has broadened his horizons. He’s made frequent appearances at stock car as well as F1 events in big ways. The Las Vegas spectacle is only the surface of his inclination in the racing business.

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Earlier this year, he was the headlining DJ at the Sonoma Raceway during the NASCAR weekend. Many F1 fans who are attending the Vegas GP got the VIP treatment courtesy of O’Neal and Beckham. Motorheads hung out with multiple celebrities at Club SI across the three-day festivities. Shaq’s sons, Myles and Shareef were on the celebrity guest list too. This wouldn’t be possible if not for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Shaq was left stung by a NASCAR great

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The Big Aristotle did face his fair share of defeats and near misses on the court. But it was the raceway where the bitterness of losing hit hardest. It was so bad Shaq not only brought it up at a Formula 1 event (a different track to Earnhardt’s) but also on his podcast.

On The Big Podcast, he recalled Dale Jr. challenged him to a race to prove drivers are athletes too. O’Neal was left in the dust as the veteran easily sped through 50 laps and left the NASCAR world laughing at the NBA legend. “Whoever said these guys aren’t athletes are out of their mind,” O’Neal admitted on his podcast.

Shaq nearly dismissed soccer as a game of running and kicking. Ironically, ‘running and kicking’ made David Beckham the highest-earning athlete once, and Shaq very jealous of him, something he admitted at the Vegas GP. He does acknowledge that soccer players are athletes. He won’t ever make the mistake of calling non-basketball players ‘non-athletes.’

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Sports icons have a way of silencing critics. Shaq would know. He had a silencing effect in the NBA too.

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Written by:

Caroline John

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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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