The man who once called himself the Big Aristotle was the tallest and most famous of the 2,200 University of Phoenix (search) graduates at the arena. But O'Neal said he was simply getting ready for the real world.
"It's just something to have on my resume (for) when I go back into reality," the 7-foot-1 Miami Heat center said before picking up his master's in business administration. "Someday I might have to put down a basketball and have a regular 9-to-5 like everybody else."
O'Neal played with the Los Angeles Lakers at the Forum until the team moved to the downtown Staples Center in 1999. Championship banners and the gold-and-purple jerseys of retired stars still hang on the walls.
"Sports for me has always been, you know, fairy tale life. And this right here is real life," he said of his degree. "This right here means more."
O'Neal left Louisiana State University as a junior in 1992 to turn pro, and made good on a promise to his mother to graduate, earning a bachelor's in business from LSU in 2000.
For the University of Phoenix, a national for-profit college that caters to working adults, the Big Graduate did online work, and, before he was traded, attended classes several days a week at a West Los Angeles campus. Fellow students weren't intimidated, he joked.
"They would all say, 'You're not like we thought you would be. You're not as smart as we thought that you would be,'" O'Neal said.
O'Neal, who left the Lakers following a well-publicized feud with Kobe Bryant, said his job experience came in handy in the classroom.
"I used my basketball experience working with different egos, to get everybody to work together," he said.
But O'Neal likes to be in charge. He previously took courses at a police academy and said he'll aim for another degree, in criminal justice. He hopes to eventually work as a sheriff or police chief and said he met some people in those top positions with advanced degrees.
"I wanted to have the same type of knowledge that they had," he said.
O'Neal worked with classmates to design mock sneaker and cell phone companies, though he already had more than a little experience in the business world from product endorsements, his own clothing line and forays into movies and music.
The degree, he said, "solidifies that I'm a businessman."
The Big Executive is ready to take on Bill Gates and Donald Trump.
"I could always go and have a conversation with Mr. Gates or Mr. Trump. But now that I have this," he said, "I can really have a conversation with them on the same level that they have their conversations."