Every night before her son wows the crowd with his slam dunks and powerhouse basketball in Orlando’s O-rena, Lucille Harrison arrives early enough to pass by the court during warm-up and proudly call her gentle giant over to the sidelines. “I always make sure I give him a kiss, and I tell him, Good luck, have a good time, and watch your fouls.
It’s just one of Harrison’s man roles as “Shaq’s Mom,” the woman who gave birth to Shaquille O’Neal, the seven-foot one-inch, 300-pound center for the Orlando Magic.
In return for her loving support, her s now a 24-year-old superstar who earns roughly $21.9 million a year, treats her like a queen He wrote and recorded a rap song about called “My Dear.” He says he wants to mar woman just like her. And he fills up her hi with dozens of roses at a time. “I always tell ‘Don’t buy me anything,”‘ Harrison, 42, says, “I just love for him to come by and sit down and talk.” Which he does-nearly every day.
Shaquille and Lucille have a bond that was built early, when it was just the two of them and times were tough. Harrison was only 18 when she had Shaquille Rashaun (an Islamic name meaning “little warrior”). As a single mother with no support from her baby’s father, she abandoned her dreams to become a nurse, moved in with her grandmother in Newark, NJ, and took work as a secretary to provide for her child.
Nonetheless, money was scarce and there were days when they had nothing to eat. When O’neal was 2, Lucille married An-ny Sergeant Philip Harrison, but they still had trouble making ends meet. The couple soon had more children-Lateefah, now 18, Ayesha, 17, and Jamal, 16-and moved from base to base around the world. She recalls the Thanksgiving when O’Neal was 9 and all they had for dinner was a can of spaghetti.
Through it all, O’neal was the class clown (“A juvenile delinquent,” he jokes). And his mother and stepfather, whom he still calls “Sarge,” became strict disciplinarians. in high school, when O’neal began growing so fast his mother couldn’t find shoes to fit (he now has his size 22 EEEs custom-made), his stepfather pulled him aside and said: “Look how big you are. Be a leader, not a follower. People will look up to you.” When he came home after playing summer-league basketball in Arizona one year, O’neal told his mother he was going to try to make the NBA. Harrison knew he could do it. But she and Sarge laid down the law: He had to do his homework first and make good grades. In 1992, he signed with the Magic for a seven-year, $41 million contract. The first thing he did was buy his mom a house 45 minutes away from his in Orlando.
Now basking in the glory of being a star player for a top team, O’neal has myriad lucrative spin-offs: Reebok, Pepsi, and Taco Bell commercials, two music CDs, a clothing line, and a new Disney family movie, Kazaam, in theaters this month, in which he plays a giant genie who befriends a troubled boy.
But the best part about the money, says Harrison, is that her son “is able to help others, that he’s kind and good to other people.” At Thanksgiving, he hosts “Shaqasgiving” for the hungry (the menu always features Harrison’s macaroni and cheese, O’Neal’s favorite dish). At Christmas, he is “Shaqaclaus,” handing out presents to needy children. Then there’s “Shaqabunny,” who distributes Easter baskets to local hospitals. This year, Harrison helped with a boxing event called “Shaq’s Mama Said Knock You Out!” to raise money for three established charities.
Weekdays, Harrison thrives on her work as secretary for her son’s business, One-al, Inc. She also oversees the Shaq Paq Network, a fan club of 100,000 members, and writes a column in the newsletter called “Ask Shaq’s Mom.” Last year, mom and son even went to Hollywood together; while he filmed Kazaam, she shot her first TVcommercial – one of Robitussin’s Dr. Mom series. “It was true to form,” O’neal says. “She is a terrific mom, always taking care of everyone else.”
Today, Harrison says the dreams she gave up in high school have been replaced many times over. And family life remains her greatest reward. O’neal sums her up like this: “She’s always there for us. She attends all our games and events … and she is always smiling.” What more could a big fella ask?