Monica Pearson One on One: Lucille O’Neal believes in giving back to the community

Shaq’s mother has developed a multi-faceted career on her own

ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Lucille O’Neal isn’t just Shaquille O’Neal’s mom. She is also a doctor, author, spokesperson, and the president of the Mothers of Professional Basketball Players Association.

And her belief in giving back to the community is one reason her celebrity son does so much good work in metro Atlanta.

Peachtree TV’s Monica Pearson first met Lucille O’Neal in 1972. From an unwed mother, Lucille O’Neal raised four children, ended a 28-year marriage and, at age 40, went back to college.

Watch Monica Pearson One on One on Sunday, July 24, at 8 pm, on Peachtree TV.

“I have a lot of hard lessons that I learned coming up,” O’Neal said. “And one of the hardest lessons I learned was that I needed to love myself if instead of depending on trying to get love from outside of the home or someone else. So that was a hard lesson for me. It took me a lot of years to learn how to love myself.”

O’Neal said she overcame hard times “a little bit at a time. “We make mistakes. But if you don’t learn from them, then you know you’re not doing yourself any good. I remember the dreams that I let go when I first had Shaquille. I wanted to go to college back then, but coming out of high school, I didn’t have that chance because I became a mother right out of high school.”

Shaquille O’Neal was playing basketball at the age of six and his parents realized how exceptional he was.

“We put a plan in place and we kept telling him, use it as a tool and a stepping stone to get to another place,” O’Neal said. “He mentioned he wanted to play professional basketball. We taught him what it means to be a student athlete. Because you can play basketball, but it’s important that your grades are kept up.”

O’Neal wasn’t happy when her son wanted to quit school and opt into the NBA. “He kept thinking basketball. I’m thinking education,” she recalled. “I said, ‘You’re not finished with that.’ But we made a deal. I said I will go along with what you want to do if you promise to go back and finish school. And he stuck to that promise. I’m so happy for him. His name is Dr. Shaquille O’Neal.”

O’Neal said her own dreams went dormant “until over 40 when all the children grew up and God said, ‘OK, it’s your time.’ And that’s when I went back to school. Those dreams became alive again. I’m so happy about those dreams that I never let go. I’m so happy.”

Monica Pearson: One on One is an interview-themed series featuring the legendary Atlanta journalist.

Tim Darnell

Tim Darnell

Tim Darnell is the Investigative Digital Content Producer for Atlanta News First.