Back in 1996, Shaquille O’Neal brought some of his on-court magic onscreen in the kiddie comedy, Kazaam. In recent years, though, a certain section of the internet has convinced itself that the NBA superstar wasn’t that era’s only PG-rated genie. On Reddit and other message boards, ’90s kids have insisted that they also grew up watching Shazaam, a kids-and-their-genie movie that supposedly starred the comedian Sinbad. Never mind that no information — let alone footage — of this other film exists, and Sinbad himself has denied ever playing Shazaam or any other cinematic genie... though he did mess with peoples’ memories further by appearing in a fake April Fool’s Day clip produced by CollegeHumor.
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, O’Neal says that he hasn’t followed the ongoing Kazaam vs. Shazaam debate. “Never heard of that one,” the retired Los Angeles Laker says on the phone from L.A. Maybe that’s because he only gets his Kazaam news from actual kids, not the overgrown kids on the internet. “Kazaam was a movie that was supposed to be for kids,” O’Neal says. “It’s not for adults — it’s for kids that are from 2 to 7, because when they see me, they think I’m magic. As long as they think I’m magic, who cares what adults say?” And if today’s kids want to see him and Sinbad teaming up as Kazaam and Shazaam in an Avengers-style team-up movie, he’d put back on his ‘90s costume. “Of course I would. Always for the kids.”
In the meantime, O’Neal is granting real-life wishes to kids through Mission Tiger, a charitable program overseen by Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes in partnership with DonorsChoose. Since its launch in August 2019, Mission Tiger — named after Frosted Flakes mascot, Tony the Tiger — has been raising funds to support middle school athletic programs. On Friday, they got a major boost from O’Neal and WNBA star Candace Parker, who crashed a video conference call with players and coaches at Philadelphia’s Young Scholars Charter School to announce that they were donating a new sports court to the school, as well as new uniforms and equipment.
“I’ve been wanting to be in business with Tony the Tiger since 1992,” O’Neal tells us. “Tony is doing a wonderful thing for the city of Philadelphia. We want these kids to stay active: We know that nutrition and sports always keeps kids positive and going in the right direction. Especially in these trying times with the pandemic going on, kids aren’t able to have a lot of new stuff. So when they come back [to school], it's going to be to a brand-new everything thanks to Tony the Tiger and Frosted Flakes. Hopefully, when I'm 60, I’ll be walking in Philadelphia and someone will say, ‘Hey, man. Remember when you gave a court to my school? They say I'm going to be a top 10 draft pick.’ That's what it's all about.”
During the quarantine, O’Neal has stayed active and involved with his own kids, whether it’s hosting Instagram dance parties or running basketball drills.
“We just find things to do around the house,” O’Neal says of his approach to quarantine parenting. “Walking safely in your neighborhood, and doing push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks. There's different strokes for different folks.” In between family workouts, he’s also been binging the ESPN documentary, The Last Dance, which covers Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls in the late ’90s — the same period that O’Neal was playing with the Lakers. “I have three boys, and we’re all looking at Mike: he was the greatest player, and just being able to tell them personal stories [about Jordan] from when I was there. These Millennials have their own takes of who the greatest player ever is, but when they see this documentary, they understand why Mike is up there by himself.”
While The Last Dance is satisfying his craving for fresh basketball content, O’Neal is also wondering how the sport will return following the pandemic, perhaps in a version where games are played in empty arenas. “That would be awfully weird. I’m glad I wouldn’t be playing, because I would play terribly! I could never go into an arena with no fans. But there’s so much speculation, and I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just sitting back like everybody else.”
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