Shaquille O’Neal’s Newest Title: The Big Franchisor

Superman. The Big Cactus. The Big Aristotle. The Big Shamrock. Diesel. Shaq. These are just a few of the nicknames of former professional basketball player, millionaire—and perhaps soon to be billionaire—Shaquille O’Neal.

Shaq played for six different teams over the course of his tremendously successful 19-year NBA career. The 7’1”, 325 pound center won four championships, won the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award three times, and was named the league MVP once, among many other honors and awards.

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While he earned $17,400,000 in total in four seasons with the Orlando Magic, over $166 million in nine seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, and another $20 million each of a total five seasons spent with three other teams, his earning power by no means ended when he retired after one season with the Boston Celtics in 2011 (for which he earned a comparatively paltry $1.3 million).

In fact, Shaq now earns more annually than he ever made in salary in any season of his playing career.

Currently, from his various endorsements and business endeavors, Shaq pulls in an estimated $60 million per year. His estimated net worth, meanwhile, sits at $400 million, making him the fifth richest living basketball player, according to a 2021 Audacy poll. This puts him behind the likes of Magic Johnson ($600 million), LeBron James (who has a net worth estimated by Forbes in June 2022 to have crossed the $1 billion mark), and Michael Jordan ($1.7 billion).

While Shaq’s fortune may not even be one-fourth of Michael Jordan’s, and while it may be less than half of LeBron James’ (who holds the title of richest basketball player currently playing), a $400 million fortune is significantly more than most retired NBA players possess, and it is also significantly more than the $292,198,327 he made in salary during his playing career.

As most money managers would recommend, Shaq’s income streams are highly diversified. While Shaq’s day job (or technically, night job) may be as a sports analyst for the TV show “Inside the NBA” on TNT, his salary from TNT makes up but a small fraction of his yearly earnings. While there are conflicting reports regarding Shaq’s contract specifics, he likely earns a similar amount as his co-host, fellow former NBA MVP and All-Star Charles Barkley, who reportedly earns $1.5 million per year.

It's estimated that Shaq makes another $22 million per year through endorsement deals, which he has with a variety of companies. In fact, his willingness to endorse a plethora of companies and products over the years has become a running joke on “Inside the NBA.” USA Today has called him “the king of endorsements,” and in 2015, Sports Illustrated published a list titled “The Top 50 Shaq Endorsements.” Icy Hot, The General auto insurance, Papa John’s, and Gold Bond are just a few of the many companies with which Shaq is affiliated.

While the breadth of his endorsements may be unparalleled, he has not limited his relationships with companies to just recommending them to others. In fact, most of his earnings each year come not from endorsements, but from franchising—both as a franchisee and a franchisor.

Shaq owns a variety of franchises, including 17 Auntie Anne’s pretzel stores, nine Papa John’s pizza restaurants, and “a few” Krispy Kremes, although he has said that he would like to expand to 100 units, joking, “I like doughnuts, and Charles Barkley loves doughnuts. And he’s my biggest customer. I wanna be a large part of that business.”

In the past, Shaq has also reportedly owned 40 24-Hour Fitness gyms, 150 car washes, and 155 Five Guys burger restaurants, although he has since divested himself of these holdings.

On top of the Papa John’s restaurants he owns, he has also been on the company’s board of directors since 2019 and has signed a three-year deal worth $8.25 million to be the pizza chain’s brand ambassador.

Finally, Shaq has started his own chain of restaurants, Big Chicken, which offers larger-than-average chicken sandwiches, as the name implies, along with other typical chicken restaurant fare. The chain is currently operating in nine states and has more than 150 locations in its development pipeline.

While many may joke that Shaq will endorse or invest in anything, he has told HBO Real Sports that he actually has a strict investment policy: he only gets involved if he personally likes the company or product. For instance, Shaq loved the Ring doorbell camera home security system so much that in 2016 he tracked down the inventor, bought part of the business, and starred in several commercials for them—and when Amazon bought Ring for a reported $1 billion in 2018, Shaq got a cut.

Shaq also invested in Google in 2004, before it went public. Since his investment, the company has gone from a $100 million valuation to nearly $2 trillion.

Shaquille O’Neal is truly a modern day Renaissance man. Not only is he one of the greatest basketball players to ever live, he is also a rapper (his 1993 album “Shaq Diesel” went certified platinum), a DJ (he’s performed at festivals to 100,000+ people), an actor (he has dozens of credits to his name, from cameos to voice acting to reality TV, not to mention starring in the 1997 film Man of Steel—which was, admittedly, a flop), and a TV host and commentator. And if that wasn’t enough, he also received his Doctorate of Education in organizational learning and leadership with a specialization in human resource development in 2012, and was sworn in as a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia in 2016.

Yet despite all of these jobs focused primarily on entertaining others, Shaq’s most lucrative ventures (apart from basketball, of course) have been his business investments. Through careful investing in products and companies he believes in, he has not just avoided the fate of a majority of retired NBA players (60% of whom go broke within five years of retirement), he has been able to build upon his wealth from his playing days like few athletes in history have.

While most everyday investors will not have hundreds of millions of dollars to play with, they can still employ the same principles as Shaq to make the most of whatever they have. Shaq invested in the Ring doorbell because he loved it and believed in it—and he knew that if he loved it, others probably would, too. He endorses Icy Hot because as a former athlete, he has directly experienced its benefits and believes others will find it helpful as well. And he created Big Chicken because he believed in the product and knew it could be appealing to customers, then he employed the resources he had to make it happen—for instance, he secured executive chefs from his restaurant portfolio to create menu items that are cage-free with no additives, preservatives, MSG, or GMOs.

Through hustle, hard work, and the intelligent use of his resources, Shaq has created an entirely new, post-playing career that may soon see him join LeBron and MJ on the short list of basketball billionaires.