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Shaquille O'Neal on Geeks, Partnering and Winning in Business

March 11, 2013

Shaquille O'Neal is famous for his years of pro-basketball greatness. Fewer people know him for his social-media prowess. That's a relative statement as he has 6.8 million Twitter followers and more than 3 million Facebook fans. But even fewer people know him as an entrepreneur and a tech enthusiast.

"I'm one of the world's tallest geeks," the seven-foot-one former NBA center told an audience at the South by Southwest Interactive festival today in Austin. He spoke on stage with social media expert Brian Solis to a room of about 500 people.

"Shaq," as he's known to fans, was an early investor in Google and a backer of the Five Guys restaurant chain, Vitaminwater and Muscle Milk. He helped launch video status-update service Tout to early success. He wanted to bypass ESPN to announce his retirement and do it on video through Twitter. He broke the news using Tout in 2011 and he now owns part of the company.

O'Neal said he became a "geekie" when he had to pass a computer class so he could continue to play basketball. He befriended a student he nicknamed "McDougal," who helped him through it. "It was the geeks that made me realize I was not dumb," he said. Later in life, he earned a master's degree in business administration and a doctorate in human-resources development.

Related: Indiegogo's Slava Rubin on the Myths of Entrepreneurship

Here are some of the nuggets from his interview for aspiring entrepreneurs.

O'Neal didn't shy away from talking about life's difficulties. He talked about what he calls "my worst years," age 9 to 17, as a "medium-level juvenile delinquent." If it weren't for sports, he said he'd have gotten into "super-big trouble," and eventually might have joined the military following his father, "probably would have gotten his act together" and worked in law enforecement.

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O'Neal's humor, way with words and relationship skills that won him his social media following were on full display at SXSW. He cracked jokes and posed for photos with audience members in the Q&A session. Asked when Kazaam 2, a sequel of his 1996 box-office bomb, would be in theaters, he quipped, "March 6, two-thousand and never."

Related: Inside the 'Insane' Life of Entrepreneur Elon Musk