The NBA returns in October. So we grill one of the league’s all-time greats, Saquille O’Neal, about his best dunks, toughest opponents, and biggest regrets. 

When you burst into the NBA in 1992, the league had never seen anything like you: a true seven-footer who could move like a guard and destroy backboards at will. Are you the strongest player in basketball history?

I’ve heard it’s between me and Wilt Chamberlain. But you know what’s crazy? I shake a lot of the old guys’ hands, and they try to break my hand. The guy with the strongest handshake is Artis Gilmore. Bill Russell has a strong handshake, too. And so did Wilt.

What’s the greatest strength feat of your life?


When I was about 14 years old, one of my friends got hit by a car. He was under it a little bit. It was a small car—like a Volkswagen Bug—but I lifted it up just enough for him to get his leg out.

Which of your dunks impresses you the most?

The dunk versus the New Jersey Nets [in 1993] when I tore the whole backboard off. I wasn’t even trying to rip it down—the whole thing just broke off.

In your prime, how much could you bench-press?

My max was 475. I’m up to 415 now. I’ve got a bad shoulder, but I’m trying to get back to that. In my prime, I did it twice.

How often do you train nowadays?


I was training every day after the season. Then I took a week off to take the kids to the Bahamas. I started back up recently. I know I need to lose weight, but I don’t want to get skinny. So I’m bulking up. I want to get muscular like a WWE wrestler. I’ve been lifting and eating right—you know, just trying to get swole, because I don’t want to lose 50 pounds and be skinny. I want to be all muscle. I want to take my shirt off one last time.

Do you have a favorite exercise?


The bench press and swimming. I don’t run because my knees are banged up, so I do a lot of riding the bike and a lot of elliptical.

Got any training tips?

You just gotta train smart, and you gotta be knowledgeable. When I was young, I didn’t have knowledge, I didn’t want knowledge. But now that I’m getting older, I’m doing a lot of simple stuff that I wish I would’ve done when I was playing.

During your playing days, did you hit the gym a lot?

I never hit the gym.

Why?

You get beat up during the season. I was too tired to waste energy lifting weights.

Who’s the strongest player you ever lined up against?

Charles Oakley.

You’re a self-confessed doughnut lover and even a global ambassador for Krispy Kreme. But we’re guessing doughnuts were not part of your pregame meal.


My pregame meal in my earlier days was a turkey club sandwich and fries. Then I was on the plane one night, and I discovered a new word: tryptophan. It’s in turkey, and basically, it gets you sleepy. Then I read that Michael Jordan had a steak before every game because it helped give him energy in the fourth quarter. So from 1999 to the end of my career, I always had a steak.

We’re not sure if you heard— the announcement sort of flew under the radar—but LeBron James is now a Laker. Do you anticipate his jersey hanging in the rafters next to yours one day?

If he wins a championship, it will. If he doesn’t win any, no.

Think he’ll eventually have a statue outside Staples Center next to yours?

If he wins one or two championships, he will. 

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