Shaq’s Early Tweets Helped Bring Sports and Social Media Together

In 2008, Twitter was a far cry from the powerhouse of social media that it is today. A popular, albeit small operation, the website had enough viewers to keep the average user entertained but few enough to provide easier access to several notable figures. Among the first celebrities to utilize this was Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O'Neal smiling, looking away from the camera
Shaquille O’Neal | Nick Agro/E! Entertainment/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Shaq’s impact on Twitter

O’Neal wasn’t the first celebrity to discover Twitter, nor is he the only one who made a positive impact on it. Back in 2008, O’Neal was in the final years of a long career and was looking for the next way to build his brand. According to Zach Harper of The Athletic, O’Neal opened his account to fight several imposter accounts who were claiming to be him. 

In the early days of Twitter, there were few ways to know whether somebody was real or not. A reporter in Phoenix had quoted the superstar big man about something he allegedly said. Much to his chagrin, the attributed quote had not come from him, but an imposter on Twitter. O’Neal spoke about this with The Athletic’s Armen Keteyian. 

“‘I’m very quotatious,'” O’Neal told Keteyian. “‘I think what I say. I don’t need you to misquote me ever.'”

With this in mind, O’Neal created @THE_REAL_SHAQ and one of Twitter’s first celebrity accounts was born. 

Welcome to Twitter

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O’Neal’s first tweet, which began with a misplaced comma, introduced him to the world on the growing medium. After getting fed up with all the imposters, he adopted it as a way to get thoughts out to fans and set the record straight. Before long, however, Twitter became O’Neal’s virtual playground, and he began to use the service for different reasons.

The ugly truth

Never one to shy away from self-deprecation, O’Neal took to Twitter multiple times to tell the world how ugly he was. Whether he was going to the zoo or sugarcoating his perceived ugliness, O’Neal loved to get a laugh.

O’Neal was not his only target, however. Eventually, he took to insulting the mothers who gave birth to some of his favorite celebrity friends. 

“Yo mama so…”

O’Neal has always been one for playful sparring. Viewers who watch him on Inside the NBA know this. Before he had Charles Barkley to use as his personal punching bag, however, O’Neal set his sights on Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Hart, and anyone else who was willing to join him in an old schoolyard classic, Yo Mama. 

O’Neal let people know how ugly, fat, and otherwise flawed their mothers were, crowdsourcing jokes to throw at Kevin Hart from his fans. 

Correcting Oprah

When Oprah Winfrey joined Twitter, she was met with an outpouring of welcomes from fans and friends alike. While most people were just thrilled to have Oprah on the platform, O’Neal welcomed her in a way that only he could — by telling her to turn off her caps lock in a thank-you message to fans. 

Paging Mr. Rogers

Much like fellow Twitter enthusiast Kevin Durant, O’Neal’s tweets weren’t just used for jokes at the expense of others. They became an experiment in his stream of consciousness. One particularly notable example of this was when he mused about Mr. Rogers and asked if the children’s performer was still alive years after his death. 

Shaq out

Of course, as one of the patron saints of Twitter, O’Neal also used it as his own news source. In 2011, after a disappointing year in Boston, O’Neal took to Twitter to announce his retirement. He was among the first athletes to do such a thing, with Marshawn Lynch and several others later following suit. This may have marked the end of an era for O’Neal, whose Twitter presence largely changed after his playing days were over. 

Still occasionally giving fans the jokes, however, O’Neal’s past tweets serve as a fascinating look at how much both he and the site have changed and stayed the same in 12 years since he first hit send.