Through all the entertaining anecdotes in the new Shaquille O’Neal book about his clashes with Kobe Bryant (and Pat Riley and LeBron James and Big Baby and…) there is another, darker episode.
There is Shaq’s upbringing, and how his father physically and mentally abused him. Like punching him in the face out of the blue abusive.
Phillip Harrison, Shaq’s military-member father, crossed the line from raising a tough child to abuse, according to Jackie MacMullan, who wrote the book with Shaq. And he crossed it a lot, she said.
Here is what MacMullan told Jason Whitlock on a FoxSports.com podcast (transcribed by Eye on Basketball).
“It gets lost in the shuffle because people want to talk about Kobe, Pat Riley, and LeBron and all these other famous people, but another fascinating part of this book is his father. ‘Sarge,’ Phillip Harrison, who, frankly, abused him all the way through his life. Physically abused him, beat the living daylights out of him at every turn…
“We’re not talking about spanking. We’re talking about a belt. Beating him badly. Something that disturbed his mother greatly. Of course, Shaq’s mom and his dad aren’t together any more. I think that’s in part why. Sarge was a military guy, that’s how his father raised him, and that’s how he was going to raise his son. I don’t think he thinks there’s anything wrong with it still. Shaq understands it, his dad was ‘trying to help’ him. He believed his dad had the best intentions, so Shaq gives him a pass on it. As a reader, you can’t help but go, ‘Wow, this is tough, this is over the top.’….
“His father came home from work one night, Shaq is sitting there, he punches Shaq in the face. Shaq says, ‘Well, what’s that for?’ [Harrison] said, ‘We’re going to see this guy play basketball. We’re going to see him play tonight. He plays in the NBA. You’re messing around, you’re goofing around, you’re not serious about your game. This guy makes $15 million and he can’t play at all. And we’re going to go see him.’ Punches him again and takes him to go see Jon Koncak play basketball and says, ‘See, if you applied yourself, you could be in the NBA making $15 million.’ You can say that’s a good story, it makes my skin go pale, and I’m pretty pale to begin with.”
As a father, it makes me angry. I get how challenging it can be to motivate children, I get how hard it can be to get them to listen, be structured and follow rules. They’re kids, they want to push you at every turn. But there is a line that cannot be crossed. Not in a civil society.
It should be noted that Shaq says his father made him the man he became and Shaq loves his father dearly. Shaq praises his dad throughout the book.
Shaq also said in the book he would never treat his own kids the same way. Let’s hope that is true. Let’s hope he has ended the cycle of abuse. If so, he deserves a lot of credit.