‘Definitely a role model’: Shaq reflects on Hank Aaron’s legacy

Shaquille O'Neal greets Hank Aaron at a UNCF Mayor's Masked Ball fundraiser in Atlanta.
Shaquille O'Neal greets Hank Aaron at a UNCF Mayor's Masked Ball fundraiser in Atlanta.

Credit: Courtesy of UNCF

Credit: Courtesy of UNCF

NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal said he is saddened by the passing of Atlanta Braves legend Hank Aaron, whom he described as a role model to himself and so many others.

Aaron, the slugging outfielder who arrived in Atlanta at the height of the civil rights movement and eventually shattered Babe Ruth’s homerun record, died in his sleep, the Braves said Friday. He was 86.

ExploreHow Henry Aaron made baseball a form of civil rights activism

Speaking at an event announcing his new role as director of community relations for the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, O’Neal reflected on Aaron’s legacy just hours after his death.

ExploreThe AJC remembers the life of baseball legend Hank Aaron

“(He was) definitely a role model for me,” O’Neal told the crowd, “somebody my parents used to always say, ‘If you listen to me (and) become a leader, not a follower, possibly you could become this great.’”

01-22-2021 Henry County: Former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal reflects on Hank Aaron's passing. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Despite being a four-time NBA champion and one of the greatest centers to ever play basketball, the 48-year-old said he was shocked to discover that Aaron knew his name when the two first met.

“Even though I’m Shaq, when I meet other superstars and they know my name it’s just an honor,” O’Neal said, “He was a great man. Very hospitable to me and my condolences go out to his family. You definitely know he contributed a lot. Because of him, guys like me knew what it would take to become great.”

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