The secret to NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal’s competitive mindset: ‘All it takes is one word’

To reach NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal’s level of success, both on and off the court, you need to adopt the right mindset.

That’s according to the Hall of Famer himself. “Of course, you have to have a little bit of talent — but if you have a certain mindset, nothing can stop you,” O’Neal tells CNBC Make It.

The 15-time All-Star says he found his competitive edge during his early NBA playing days, when he learned to turn criticism into motivation. “I like when people criticize me and say I [can’t] do something,” O’Neal, 49, says. “That would upset me and when you get a guy like me upset, I’m coming in like The Hulk.” And “there’s no way you can stop it,” he adds.

Before games, O’Neal says, he’d often read articles that criticized him to fire himself up. “All it takes is one word to tick me off,” he says.

O’Neal also participated in pregame meditations led by former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who would tell players to close their eyes and think about being in the championship parade, or being down one or two points and overcoming their fears.

“He brought in sage,” O’Neal says.

There may have been a method to the madness, too. During Jackson’s 20 seasons as an NBA head coach, he won a record 11 championships, including three with O’Neal during their five seasons together. “He always told us to go to our happy place,” O’Neal says.

The meditations weren’t really O’Neal’s cup of tea at the time, he notes, but he still uses criticism to fuel himself today — even in the business world. Since retiring from the NBA in 2011, O’Neal has morphed into a business mogul who reportedly makes more money annually now through investments and endorsement deals than he ever did as a basketball player, according to HBO’s Real Sports. His net worth exceeds $400 million, according to Forbes.

But O’Neal says he doesn’t want his legacy to be about NBA titles or investments. Rather, he wants to eventually be known as someone who helped the next generation succeed. That’s the rationale, he says, behind his recent partnership with Kellogg’s, which was announced on Wednesday. The initiative is meant to raise money for middle schoolers in six U.S. cities to gain better access to sports.

O’Neal says the partnership plans to help more than 60,000 children in Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando and Phoenix.

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