MIAMI - He's officially Dr. O'Neal now.
NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal received his doctoral degree in Education from Barry University Saturday morning along with another 1,100 students during multiple commencement ceremonies at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami.
Like all things done by the four-time world champion, 15-time All-Star, movie star, rapper and entertainer, O'Neal, 40, accepted the degree in style. Wearing a custom-made, bright red XXXL-sized gown, the seven-foot-one, 325-pound former Miami Heat center got on one knee so Dr. David M. Kopp could place a light blue hood around his big neck.
O'Neal then stood up and lifted his professor like Tarzan was rescuing Jane. "Swept off my feet," Kopp described the moment, celebrated with loud cheers from the crowd.
O'Neal then walked over and hugged school president, Sister Linda Bevilacqua before walking off stage posing for photos in his cap, gown and hood like all the other graduates. On his way back to his seat, O'Neal strolled by a star struck row of graduates and handed out high-fives like he was walking past his old teammates on the bench.
Sanjay Sands, who received his masters in business administration on Saturday, was among the many students who tried to snap pictures of O'Neal on their cell phone as the ceremony proceeded. But Sands said he couldn't "get any good ones," and will simply leave with the memory he and Shaq once shared the same stage.
"What he did just shows education doesn't stop," Sands said. "He's already been successful and has decided to take his career another step forward. As a millionaire athlete he could probably not do anything, just relax, retire. But he still wants more. I admire that. We all admire that."
Said Bevilacqua: "We have many notable graduates among our 55,000 alumni, but I would have to say Dr. O'Neal would give new meaning to big man on campus. It's so important for young students to see that you can achieve great success in a variety of ways in our world. You can achieve tremendous prominence in many things, but what is most important is that we see ourselves as life-long learners. I think Dr. O'Neal is a very powerful example of that."
After leaving school early in 1992 to enter the NBA Draft, O'Neal went back to Louisiana State University eight years later and earned his bachelor's degree in general studies, fulfilling a promise to his mother. In 2005, he earned a master's of business administration through the University of Phoenix's online degree program.
After leading the Heat to the NBA title in 2006, O'Neal decided it was time to go back to school again and on a tip from the Heat's foot doctor decided to enroll at Barry in Miami Shores. He spent the past 41/2 years -- including his final two seasons in the NBA -- quietly working toward his doctoral degree in organizational learning and leadership with a specialization in human resource development. He studied before and after games, and between his work on television as an analyst, often staying up to the wee hours of the morning to get work done.
The big man didn't just get by either. O'Neal achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.813 while completing 54 credit hours comprised of 16 courses and six credit hours of self-directed research. He did most of his course work via satellite, video conferencing and Blackboard.com. The title of his doctoral capstone project was "The Duality of Humor and Seriousness in Leadership Styles.''
"Everyone thinks this is honorary. But this is not honorary. I put in four and a half hard years staying up late at night, studying, reading, rewriting papers Dr. Kopp marked up," O'Neal said.
"The work was very rigorous, but very enjoyable. And I'm not done. I think I'm going to try law school next. I'm thinking about it. We'll see."
O'Neal's mother, Lucille O'Neal, a few of his siblings and all of his children sat and stayed through the entire two hour commencement ceremony. O'Neal gave his parents most of the credit for driving him to further his education, pointing out how when he used to get in trouble his mother would make him come up with jobs for every letter in the alphabet.
"'A' was a basketball player. 'B' was basketball player. 'C' was Cop. And 'D' -- even though I didn't believe it -- was Doctor," O'Neal said. "... I remember my mom coming in and saying 'If you really put your mind to it you probably could be a doctor.' Thank God for parents like mine.
"Of all the things I've done in my life, this probably is my No. 1 accomplishment."
His mother agreed.
"I'm proud because I know he earned that title," Lucille O'Neal said. "With all the money he's got, he could have [paid for an honorary degree]. But he didn't. And now I get to call him Dr. O'Neal."