When it comes to business, NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal’s personal motto seemingly evokes the ’73 Mets: “You gotta believe.” O’Neal believes in Papa John’s so much that he’s not only the pizza company’s brand ambassador, but he’s also a part-owner of a growing roster of Atlanta Papa John’s stores, as well as the first African American member of the company’s board of directors.
O’Neal Began Retirement Planning His Rookie Year
O’Neal’s interest in business began long before he announced his Papa John’s partnership with an excited Tweet that began, “Time for a pizza party!” Even as a 20-year-old NBA rookie, he was forging the retirement plans that would eventually include Cinnamon Pull Aparts and pizza delivery specials. His marketing muse? Spuds MacKenzie, the fun-loving party dog from the Budweiser beer commercials. According to Entrepreneur.com, when O’Neal saw Spuds, the future four-time NBA champ recognized two things: He could succeed in the business world, and he could do so without sacrificing fun.
His Business Acumen Is Inspired in Both Senses of the Word
O’Neal continually deviates from the standard playbook for business-minded sports stars. Instead of being a Wheaties box cover star, his famous smile graced cartons of Fruity Pebbles. He didn’t star in a basketball video game like Jordan or Bird; he lent his likeness to Shaq Fu, a street fighter contest. He played the titular role in the 1996 film Kazaam, about a genie who lives not in an enchanted lamp, but in a magic boom box.
His public persona is one who doesn’t take things too seriously — including himself. Behind the scenes, however, O’Neal is a shrewd and creative businessman whose inspirations go well beyond a dog in a Hawaiian shirt. Like both Magic Johnson and Junior Bridgeman before him, O’Neal embraces the risks and commitment of ownership. In addition to being part-owner of the Sacramento Kings, O’Neal holds or has held stakes in a variety of restaurants including Krispy Kreme and Five Guys.
But What Does Shaq Know About Vegan Pizza Delivery?
O’Neal embodies Papa John’s focus: He’s the personification of positivity, fun, and a deep and abiding love for pizza. The NBA veteran brings a sense of playfulness to the brand and seeks to foster an inclusive company culture.
As a brand ambassador, he’s the face of the company, starring in TV commercials, engaging with fans via social media and making public appearances. As a part-investor in several Atlanta Papa John’s stores, he’s involved and present. Grab a slice in Druid Hills, and there’s a non-zero chance that Shaq could drop in to split some garlic parmesan breadsticks and pick up the check.
Perhaps most importantly, however, O’Neal is the first African American member of Papa John’s board of directors. In other words, he’s the real deal: O’Neal isn’t just the guy in the commercials; he has an actual stake in the company, from its garlic knots to its pizza tracking service. “Papa John’s is building a better culture, and I want to be a part of improving the [company] from the inside,” O’Neal said in a statement.
Most careers in professional sports are brief. O’Neal raises the bar for athletes’ investing their talent, time and resources off the court. Don’t let Kazaam‘s score on Rotten Tomatoes tell you otherwise.