Shaquille O’Neal picked up a lot of awards in his years at LSU — All American, National Player of the Year, World Amateur Athlete of the Year, Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Year.
Today, O’Neal waited to be handed another one: a bachelor of arts degree.
“This is a day I always waited for since 1989,” O’Neal said. “It took a while, six or seven summers, but it was worth it.”
School officials had asked O’Neal, who towered above his classmates in his black robe and mortar board, to sit on the stage during this morning’s general ceremonial event. He did, but said he would sit with his fellow students during an afternoon ceremony when he will be handed his bachelor’s degree.
“He probably worked harder and longer for this than for any of those other awards,” said Mike Mallet, O’Neal’s academic adviser at LSU. “You can imagine what he had to do to complete all the requirements while playing in the NBA.”
Keeping His Promise
O’Neal is playing hooky from the Los Angeles Lakers to attend the graduation ceremonies at LSU. He had the team’s blessing to miss tonight’s game against the Vancouver Grizzlies so he could join the rest of the senior class and accept his diploma.
“Here he is, almost 30, and he’s graduating from college,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “He’s persevered to do it. We wish him well in his graduation, it’s a wonderful thing to do.”
O’Neal, 28, left LSU in 1992 after three years to turn pro. When he walked out of school he promised both his parents and his college coach, Dale Brown, that he would get his degree.
“I promised my parents I’d do it, I promised myself I’d do it,” O’Neal said of earning his degree. “It took eight years, it should have taken six or seven. I had some other engagements.”
Of the diploma, O’Neal said: “It puts a stamp on me as an educated man.”
Studying Long Distance
O’Neal attended some classes during the summer, Mallet said. For the most part, however, he earned credit through LSU’s independent studies program.
“Thank God for the Internet and Federal Express,” Mallet said. “He got the material one way or another and got it back one way or another.”
When O’Neal got down to the final hours needed for the degree he put on a “full court press,” Mallet said.
O’Neal earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies with a minor in political science.
“Not that he’ll ever need it, but it’s a degree that could put him in a lot of good fields,” Mallet said.
Earning $19.286 million this season and under contract through the 2005-2006 season for more than $152 million, O’Neal’s getting a degree makes him a great role model, Mallet said.
“This is a guy who could buy a degree, it’s not like he’s going to be looking for a job,” Mallet said. “But it shows kids that there is more to life than fame and fortune.”
‘Completing His College Memories’
Today’s ceremony was held in the Maravich Assembly Center at LSU — the home court of the basketball team.
In three years at LSU, O’Neal set school, SEC and national records, and was named the Associated Press Player of the Year in 1991. LSU made it to the NCAA tournament all three years he played, but lost in the second round twice and the first round the other year.
“I think he really enjoyed himself when he was here,” Brown said. “I think this is just completing his college memories.”
When asked about his grade point average, O’Neal jokingly said he was the class valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA, but declined to give his actual standing in the class.
He was to receive his actual degree at an afternoon ceremony.
O’Neal’s jersey No. 33 will be retired at halftime of the LSU-New Orleans game Saturday night. He joins Bob Pettit and Pete Maravich as the only LSU basketball players to have their numbers retired.
O’Neal was to rejoin the Lakers in time for Sunday’s game in Toronto.