Shaquille O’Neal will go down in history as being one of the most dominant big men in the game of basketball. And his life is the epitome of the American dream: A young boy growing up poor but ultimately becoming a success through hard work and a good education.
O'Neal recently explained to me that beyond his illustrious career in the NBA, he would like to establish a legacy of being a gateway to success for many African-American boys growing up in the inner cities of America.
The retired star, currently promoting his new book, “Shaq: Uncut,” was interviewed before a large student audience inside the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel on the campus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga.
During the interview, he shared how he grew up in the tough housing projects of Newark, N.J. He recalls how he was exposed to all the temptations that could have taken him on a path to juvenile delinquency, violence, drugs or jail.
However, Shaq says the tough love and consistent guidance he received from his father and mother eventually saved him from falling victim to the temptations of street life. He says his parents paved the way for him to learn that failure was not an option.
"I'm big on family, because it's my family who made me who I am today," O'Neal said "My mother and father showed me the blueprint. They showed me how to master that blueprint. And without them and without the love of God, I wouldn't be who I am today."
He adds that his parents always encouraged him to dream big about what he wanted to accomplish in life, and they motivated him to work hard and study hard to achieve his goals and turn his dreams into a reality.
Shaq has successfully made all of his childhood dreams come true. He is a four-time NBA champion, earned several Most Valuable Player Awards, made four rap albums -- his first, “Shaq Diesel,” went platinum -- not to mention his own TV show and even leading roles in some funny Hollywood movies.
Shaq has certainly come a long way from the projects of Newark, but he says his greatest accomplishments have been in education. He completed his bachelor’s degree at LSU, earned an MBA online through the University of Phoenix and in May will receive his doctorate in .leadership and development, with a specialization in human resource development, from Barry University.
I asked Shaq what his advice would be to young people growing up in circumstances similar to his poor beginnings. His response is the same advice that his father and mother gave him when he was a child.
"Be leaders and not followers," he said. "Whatever your dream may be, just follow it. It's not going to be easy. Everything is a test. And the more you fight through the test, the more you see it through, you can accomplish anything you want."
You can see the first of a two-part story on Shaquille O’Neal in the series "Beyond The Dream," which airs on "America’s News HQ" at 1 p.m. Saturday on Fox News.
Kelly Wright is a general assignment reporter for Fox News Channel (FNC), based in the Washington, D.C. bureau. He is also a co-host on "America's News Headquarters" on Saturdays (1:00-2:00 PM/ET). Wright previously served as a co-host on "Fox & Friends Weekend."