Shaquille O'Neal found many ways to keep busy at home during the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year.
The 48-year-old NBA Hall of Famer participated in TikTok dance challenges, had a virtual party with NFL star Rob Gronkowski and even DJ'ed in his own kitchen. But during this time, O'Neal also tried to instill life lessons in his children, especially through stories about the fellow legends he's played with, like Dwyane Wade, Penny Hardaway, and the late Kobe Bryant.
"We definitely were able to bond, especially being with my boys," O'Neal tells PEOPLE of the time he spent at home with his family before returning to television on Inside the NBA. "I realized that the things that made me great were stories. I was able to tell them a lot of stories. A lot of Kobe stories, D. Wade stories, Penny Hardaway stories. Just a lot of stories to help them maximize their potential, help get to that next level."
With some of his six children taking up basketball — including his 20-year-old son, Shareef — O'Neal turned to these stories to better illustrate lessons on the court.
"A lot of times, when you're training them, they get tired of your voice. They need something else," the four-time NBA champion recalls. "I used to tell them stories like, 'Hey, Kobe used to practice this way. Maybe you should try that.' "
"It definitely helped us bond more, but I'm very lucky," he continues. "I have six wonderful, damn near perfect children who never get into problems and they understand that and I'm teaching them right now."
But the lessons didn't just center around basketball — O'Neal, a successful businessman in his own right, has also encouraged them to dive into their own ventures.
"The law in my house is, in order to touch Mr. O'Neal's cheese, you have to have three degrees," he explains.
"I actually bought my three oldest, I bought them the same book that helped change my life, Dummies Guide to Starting Your Own Business," O'Neal says. "I told them, I said, 'If you read and master this and come with a proposal, I'm going to help you start your own business.' So, they're reading that now and asking me questions."
While O'Neal has done his best to keep his kids occupied during their break from traditional schooling and sports, he recognizes other families are going through similar situations. That's why he's teamed up with longtime partner IcyHot to help high school athletics programs get back into operation when coronavirus restrictions are finally lifted.
"The problem that has arisen is that the pandemic has disrupted youth sports and forced schools, and hard-hit communities, to slash the budgets of their athletic programs," O'Neal says.
"When the time comes to restart," he adds, "these financially short programs who need help purchasing newly mandated protective gear and meeting safety and hygiene protocols that are required to reactivate sports."
Through the Get Game Ready to Grant program, $1 from every IcyHot product sold will go to the Shaquille O’Neal Foundation, which will in turn support Title I high schools that will need help restarting boys and girls athletic programs.
"It hurts my heart to see 40 million people out of work. It hurts my heart to see that local communities are cutting programs, cutting jobs, cutting afterschool programs," O'Neal says.
"I always tell children they need to stay active," he continues. "There's already a large amount of our kids playing Fortnite and on their phones, and [watching] WorldStar HipHop and all that stuff. We want them to stay active. Any school that needs help getting that, [we can help]."
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