10 March 2008

"I'd Like to be Known as 'The Big Aristotle'"

According to Wikipedia, his nicknames include "The Diesel", "The Big Daddy", "Superman", "The Big Cactus", "Wilt Chamberneezy", "The Big Baryshnikov", "The Real Deal", and (after recently gaining an MBA degree) "Dr. Shaq".

But surely the best, greatest, and most honorable nickname of Shaquille O'Neal, the American basketball star, is "The Big Aristotle".

The nickname arose from a USA Today story in 2000, which tells of a motivational conversation O'Neal had with his stepfather:

Phil Harrison, his Army sergeant stepfather -- whom O'Neal always refers to as his real father -- had a pivotal phone conversation with his stepson when the playoffs turned intense. Harrison always had taught his stepson about compassion; a young O'Neal watched him give away bagfuls of White Castle cheeseburgers to homeless men. He rounded up O'Neal's entire boyhood basketball team and made them visit sick kids in a hospital at Christmas.
But this time Phil gave O'Neal a lecture instead about the importance of consistency in excellence:
This time, the lesson was harsh: There is no compassion for a loser. "In this world we live in," he told O'Neal, "if you win, you're probably going to be one of the greatest ever. If you don't, you're going to be a bum." Click.

O'Neal responded to the challenge and from that point began striving to excel not simply in occasional plays but rather throughout entire basketball games:

In fact, [O'Neal] called attention to his mind, not his brawn. "I'd like to be known as 'the Big Aristotle.' It was Aristotle who said excellence is not a singular act, but a habit."

(But where's the tatoo that says "Hexis not praxis"?)