On the Road With Shaquille O’Neal, Who Loves Hooters and Hookah Bars

Few people on earth travel as often as professional athletes. With On the Road, the GQ Sports Travel Questionnaire, they’re weighing in on everything from room service to flying comfortably to their favorite chain restaurants.

No matter where he goes, everybody knows Shaq. He’s been a staple of the sports and entertainment worlds for 30 years, and he’s one of the most recognizable people on the planet. That presents some interesting and unique problems when he’s traveling, both because there’s nowhere for him to hide, and because of the physical challenges presented by planes, hotels, and everything else that isn’t Shaq-sized.

This doesn’t mean that he’s going to pack it all up and stay inside for the rest of his life, though. Shaq is the new president of basketball operations for Reebok, a job that will involve a little bit of product development, some partnerships with players, and occasional trips to the company’s “presidential palace” in Boston. O’Neal signed his first deal with Reebok in 1992, and feels like “there’s no one more qualified for this role” than him. “I’m going to be hands-on. I’m not the head designer, but I’ll definitely have my hands in all that. When you win championships, it’s all about teammates,” he said of his Reebok team. “We are trying to re-emerge. We’ll definitely, definitely make some noise.”

A life of jet-setting comes with a lot of stories too, and though the man who played a genie in Kazaam and is always palling around in insurance commercials with The General has a well-documented silly side, he asserts that he’s “always in business mode.” Shaq spoke to us about that—as well as his favorite vacation and fine dining spots—for this edition of On the Road.

’92 Shaq looking fly

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

What are the things you bring with you on every trip?

I always go double. So, if it’s a seven-day trip, 14 pairs of underwear and 14 tank tops. What type of trip is it? If it’s a business trip, but not really, seven polo shirts, just in case. Then I go a couple pairs of jeans, a couple sweatsuits, a couple hookah bar t-shirts, belts, Reeboks, and Tom’s slip ons.

Tom’s? Is that a comfort thing?

I got a thousand pairs in my garage. Yes, it is a comfort thing, but I don’t want to do knots anymore. I want to just slip my beautiful toes in some shoes. I definitely like low tops, like the Reebok classics. They sent me 10,000 pairs of those. Red, blue, yellow, orange, green!

So you’re an over-packer?

We came from China and I was looking at my bag, I didn’t touch damn near anything! I’m definitely an over-packer.

Do you have to make special requests at hotels to get the right sizes for beds and stuff?

I’m not a diva. Some hotels take it upon themselves to get a bed and then another bed turned sideways. I snuggle up like a child, so I don’t really need that. I’ve never been one of those high-maintenance superstars. My only request is a big room. I will overpay for that. I don’t like just four walls. I gotta have the biggest suite in the hotel. I like living room, piano…

Do you play the piano?


Me neither.

I just like to look at it. Bro, you got a piano in your hotel room? You feel important.

The hotel shower can be an issue, even if you’re not seven feet tall.

You know, it started in high school. You just learn to duck. I don’t need everything to be custom. I’m just glad I can take a shower.

When you’re on the road, I’m sure it’s impossible for you not to get noticed. Do you have a personal policy when it comes to interacting with fans?

Only time I say no is when I’m eating. Let me get done eating and I’ll take care of you. I always say yes to kids, always say yes to elderly people, always say yes to people that are extremely nice. Rarely do I say no. But if I’m eating a meal with the boys and you come over? I don’t want to be touching hands when I’m eating my big chicken sandwiches.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever autographed?

I’ve signed it all, brother. I can’t say it, but trust me.

Do you ever go hang out in the hotel bar?

I’m a gift shop guy. I’ll glance at the bar, but I’m not a heavy drinker. I sit in the lobby and do my thing. When I’m in Beverly Hills, I always stay at the Four Seasons. They got a nice bar, nice restaurant. I’m frequently down there. I don’t go to the pool, because if I take my clothes off, people go crazy. I’m getting sexy. Thirst trap Shaq.

How are airplanes for you? I imagine tight, compact spaces aren’t the best.

Well, I have my own plane now, so I haven’t had that problem in 15 years. But to answer your question, it was a struggle. I always tried to get the first seat. If that wasn’t available, I’d try to go in the back and sit in the exit row. The longer flights were painful. I had two guys snoring on top of me one time. Not on top of me, but next to me! You know what I meant to say.

When was the last time you flew commercial and you weren’t in first class?

Probably in the ‘80s. I used to fly from Baton Rouge to San Antonio a lot on Southwest. I knew the people at the gate in Baton Rouge and the people at the gate in San Antonio. I’d show up like three hours early and they’d say, “Pick a seat!” Last time I flew commercial we went to Abu Dhabi. It wasn’t first class, it was business class. I was supposed to have one of those bed thingies. But they don’t make those for a guy my size.

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