How Did Shaquille O’Neal “Sleeping” Meme Originate? 15 Years later, Decoding the Viral Photo

Published 04/02/2024, 3:15 PM EDT

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Among the multitude of internet memes, very few have been able to survive all these years and are now dictating the online culture in the same way. Whether they are funny or just plain silly, memes are a shared language in the online world, which glues together online communities by providing a common chuckle and entertainment. One such everlasting meme is the “Sleeping Shaq” meme, which features legendary NBA star Shaq O’Neal in some peacefully sound sleep. It is indeed surprising that this meme is celebrating its 15th anniversary. 

The beginning of the “Sleeping Shaq” meme is popular for the occasion that took place during the NBA’s Media Day in 2008, when a superficial moment was lensed. There is a picture of Shaquille O’Neal, the right-handed person at the journalist, who is very small and sickled over, which makes them understand him even more. He is closing his eyes, and his head is slightly on the downward side; it seems like he is dozing off just like that. Few people would have thought that during this time and in the years to come, this spontaneous photo would become one of the ever-green memes that is so big online and on social media.

Very soon, it took over the web, spreading like wildfire and refusing to be stopped on social media networks and forums where creative users attached comic value to the original image. Like most memes, the “Sleeping Shaq” icon also received new interpretations and forms after it gained fame, leading to its ongoing success.

Technically, from catchy slogans to excellent PhotoShop editing, internet users discovered countless ways to reinterpret the paragon image and amusedly gatecrash into the scene with their own vision and humor.

Cultural Impact of Shaquille O’Neal’s Meme

Aside from the amusement value, the “Sleeping Shaq” meme has already set foot in pop culture. Indeed, it has made its presence felt much beyond the arena of sports. From first mention to full-blown cycle, it has taken the original meme to other ecologies, and a funny video mimicking Shaquille O’Neal was posted on the website. Consequently, the meme is highly influential and has become the go-to meme for the meme-generating public.

Over the last 15 years, the “Sleeping Shaq” joke became a phenomenon, the internet proved to have the power not only to turn even the most banal events into a piece of fame but also to determine the role that can last for the long term. This picture that was taken on an ordinary press ride has become a collective one for everybody, regardless of his or her social status or profession. 

The motive behind this bit could be a sense of mirth or triggering our creative brains, but there is no doubt that this image will be unforgettable and continue to be in people’s hearts all over the world, setting the benchmark for internet history.


Written by:

Daksh Saini


One take at a time

Daksh Saini is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports, where his passion for basketball converges with insightful analysis. Daksh specializes in crafting compelling articles that delve into the legacies of NBA legends. His unique perspective, coupled with a deep understanding of the game, allows him to offer readers nuanced commentary and engaging narratives focused on the iconic figures who have shaped the history of professional basketball.
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Edited by:

Riya Singhal