Don’t Let The Jovial Smile Fool You, Shaquille O’Neal Is a Shrewd Businessman. Inside His Empire

Many professional athletes struggle financially once they retire. This hasn’t been a problem for former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal. He has built an impressive business empire since retiring in 2011. Having earned nearly $300 million in NBA salary during his 19-year basketball career, according to Shaq in a 2018 interview with reporter Bernard Goldberg for “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” on HBO, he was making more each year than his $30 million NBA salary, as per Business Insider.

Shaq, O'Neal
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 24: Shaquille O’Neal attends the 2019 NBA Awards at Barker Hangar on June 24, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

The Franchise King

Shaq has made significant investments in the food industry. At one point, he owned 155 Five Guys restaurants, which accounted for 10% of the company’s franchises, Money reported. Although he sold his stake in 2016, he told CNBC, Shaq still holds several food-related investments, including at one time 17 Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops and a Krispy Kreme franchise in Atlanta. In 2023 he told Earn Your Leisure he has sold his Auntie Anne’s Pretzels restaurants because he didn’t think people wanted pretzels. He also co-owns a CityPlex12 movie theatre in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, a range Big Chicken restaurants across the country, and a Shaquille’s burger place in Los Angeles.

In addition to his franchise ownership, in 2019 Shaq joined the board of directors at Papa John’s, invested in nine stores near Atlanta and bagged an $8.25 million three-year endorsement deal as the pizza chain’s brand ambassador, Money reported.

O’Neal and His Diversified Investments

Shaq’s investments extend beyond food. He owns 40 24-Hour Fitness gyms and 150 car washes. An early investor in Google (albeit he says by accident), he continues to hold stock in the company. Shaq also owns a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings and has various branded products, including Shaq suits, sneakers, jewelry, and children’s books.

Shaq’s investment philosophy is simple: He only invests in products and companies he personally likes, he told Real Sports. This strategy led him to invest in Ring, a doorbell camera home security system, after meeting the inventor. When Amazon purchased Ring for over $1 billion, Shaq reaped the benefits.

The Hall of Famer is also the second-largest independent stakeholder in Authentic Brands Group, a brand management firm that owns the likenesses of countless celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley as well as O’Neal himself.

And, Authentic also owns Reebok.

Brand Ambassador and Entrepreneur

Shaq’s personal brand is synonymous with fun. He has endorsed a wide range of products, from Gold Bond and Icy Hot to Oreos and doughnuts. His most notable commercials include Carnival Cruises and The General auto insurance.

Shaq recently made headlines with his appointment as president of Reebok Basketball, with Allen Iverson as vice president. This marks the return of both NBA legends to the company as it refocuses on performance basketball shoes. Shaq’s role involves overseeing basketball strategy, advising on product development, and emphasizing player development.

Big Chicken Empire

Shaq’s Big Chicken restaurant chain, inspired by his mother’s cooking, is expanding rapidly. Known for its hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken cooked fresh without heat lamps, Big Chicken has locations in 15 states and on two Carnival Cruise ships. The chain’s signature sandwich, Uncle Jerome’s Nashville Hot, features Nashville hot chicken with lettuce, mayo, and pickles.

Founded in 2018 with a Las Vegas-based JRS Hospitality and Authentic Brands Group, Big Chicken started accepting franchise applications in 2019, The Los Angeles Times reported. The cost ranges from $450,000 to $1.4 million, with a $40,000 franchise fee and 5 percent of sales going to the company.

A Lasting Legacy

Shaq’s business ventures are extensive. From DJ’ing to producing live events like Shaqtoberfest, Shaq’s Fun House Super Bowl festival, and over the years partnering with Zales, Macy’s, and AriZona Beverages for his own product lines, he continues to build his brand.

For Shaq, business seems to come as easy as playing ball. “I’ve always been a businessman who is athletic,” he said during a 2013 interview on CNBC.

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