Shaquille O'Neal on Overcoming His Shark Week Fears and Keeping Kobe Bryant's Memory Alive (Exclusive)
By Antoinette Bueno
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Shaquille O'Neal isn't one to back down when it comes to facing challenges. ET spoke to the 48-year-old star to talk about his upcoming Shaq Attack special as part of Discovery's Shark Week 2020, in which he and YouTube stars Dude Perfect and Mark Rober determine what shark has the perfect predatory attack.
Back in 2018, Shaq memorably got stuck in a cage with a shark while trying to overcome his fear of the animals during his special Shaq Does Shark Week. The NBA champ said he decided to be part of Shark Week again because he still wanted to overcome his fears.
"I have a fear of sharks, but my father always said get over it," he tells ET's Kevin Frazier. "So the first time I went in, I trained and it was cool. Then when the shark got in the cage, I panicked. But luckily for the MVP elbow, I elbowed him in his mouth when he tried to bite me and made him clinch his teeth. But this time they kind of tricked me, they said we want you to just come back in, they said we want you to swim with a whale shark."
"Now listen, I'm not a fish-ologist or whatever you call them, but whales eat people and sharks eat people," he continues. "So I'm like, 'Aww, both of these dudes are combined?' So when I got in there I was terrified. But they're very docile, they're very gentle, and he only bumped me a couple times. But other than that, I was pretty cool."
Shaq joked that he did think there was a moment when it was all over.
"Because one of my favorite shows is When Animals Attack," he explains. "And I've seen 1 through 17. So they were saying, 'Oh, they only eat plankton.' I was like, 'Listen, bro. I don't know what the scientists were thinking, whale and shark.' And, you know, if you look at all the documentaries, what do whales eat? Seals. And then you put me in a black swimsuit, I look like a big black seal. Sha-seal O'Neal. That's my nickname in the water."
Still, Shaq called his most recent shark experience amazing, and is already looking forward to participating in another Shark Week.
"Next year, they're talking about me doing something with the Great Whites in South Africa," he shares. "I'm gonna do it."
Although this time, he's going to make sure there won't be a repeat of his 2018 incident.
"Listen, as long as I got me a cage, where the damn entrance is regulated," he says. "Because, see, whoever built that cage last year should be fired. Because, you know, the cage is nice, but he had a big old entrance for a shark to just swim right through, so. This time I'm going to make sure that the cage is real tight."
Shaq Attack airs as part of Shark Week on Discovery on Monday, Aug. 10.
"I think it's a good thing," he says. "I think, you know, the country is definitely in need of it. Like sports, music, and certain other activities are the one thing [that can,] one, bring people together, and two, calm people down. I know some people are concerned that if we bring basketball back, we'll lose the message. But I think the NBA and the WNBA are doing a good job of continuing the message."
"Now, I always tell people after you continue the message, now what's the plan?" he continues. "So, you know, there's a lot of stuff going on, a lot of changes have been made. Steven Jackson has been very, very influential in that stuff. A lot of people have been influential. I'm very proud of the country, because now the people that have been unheard are now being heard."
Shaq is pushing for lasting and meaningful actions.
"I know a lot of changes are being taking place, but I always tell people, don't just make changes to appease us," he shares. "Don't now after 70 years say, 'Oh, we're going to take Aunt Jemima off.' What about giving some of that money to the inner cities? 'Oh, we're gonna take Uncle Ben off the rice.' OK, that's fine. What about taking some of that money and giving it to the inner cities? Because Uncle Ben is in all the hood stores. I grew up on Uncle Ben. So, you know, don't just take them off the box. How about, you know, giving some of those resources? So, a lot of things are being done, I just want everybody to, you know, continue."
"I haven't had a chance to talk to her, but hopefully she knows that, you know, my family, we're opening up our arms to her anytime for the rest of our lives," he says. "Hopefully her daughters will call me Uncle Shaq like my kids call Kobe Uncle Kobe. I'm not the type to bother people. People think that when you're on the team you have to do -- we were never like that, we worked together and everybody has to go and do their thing. Definitely miss her. I got actually a shrine in my house I put up [for Bryant]."
"So, I definitely think about him every day and, you know, the world's doing a great job of keeping him alive 'cause every time I’m on Instagram I see highlights," he adds. "Even when he's not with us, he'll always be with us."