Not many people would argue the fact that Shaquille O’Neal is one of the greatest NBA players of all time. He did earn the nickname MDE, “Most Dominant Ever,” after all. In his 19 years as a professional athlete, the New Jersey native shattered records (and backboards), holding it down at No. 8 all-time in both points scored and blocks. So what does it take to fuel a 7-foot-1, 325-pound basketball legend?
“Mountain Dew and Red Bull,” Shaq told The Daily Meal. “Before the game I always had to have a turkey club sandwich with extra mayo and two pineapple sodas. After the game, win or lose, I got a chicken sandwich and macaroni.”
Today, chicken sandwiches are still on the menu — literally. Last year, the 47-year-old launched Big Chicken Shaq, a fast-casual concept featuring dishes inspired by the baller-turned-restaurateur (whose accolades also include rapper, DJ, sports analyst and doctor), including Shaq Attack, Shaq Daddy and MDE crispy chicken sandwiches. The premiere location opened on the Las Vegas Strip. Another is coming to Carnival’s new Mardis Gras cruise ship, set to launch in 2020.
Even with fried chicken within his particularly lengthy arm’s reach, Shaq’s diet today is more disciplined than it used to be. He’s “trying to get super sexy right now,” so on any given day, he has a Muscle Milk protein shake for breakfast before heading to his workout, where he does cardio and weights. At lunch, he eats chicken Caesar salad and before dinner, he goes for baked chicken and another protein shake. His last meal of the day is a plateful of protein and vegetables.
But the man is not afraid to indulge. His go-to drink is Fresca — the original flavor (citrus lime grapefruit) or black cherry — and he always has lemon Oreos stocked in the pantry. What you won’t find in there are ghost pepper chips.
On a 2017 episode of TNT’s “Outside the NBA,” Shaq bravely ate a tortilla chip made with ghost peppers and the Carolina Reaper, which is the world’s hottest chile pepper. Although he bet co-host Charles Barkley that he could eat the chip without “making a face,” he started coughing and ran off stage.
“I thought I was going to die,” Shaq told The Daily Meal. “I started trying to swallow and my throat was closing up.”
Even though he didn’t think he could breathe, he didn’t seek medical attention.
“It’s all mental,” O’Neal said. “It wasn’t closing. I just thought that it was. I knew that every time you eat something hot, you have to drink milk, so we had milk on standby. But then after drinking all the milk, because I’m lactose intolerant, I had diarrhea — and the diarrhea was hot. Oh my god. Burning. I was like ‘Ah. Ah.’”
For reference, the Carolina Reaper measures in at 1.4 to 2.2 million Scoville units. A habanero maxes out at 350,000 Scoville units. A word of advice: Learn from Shaq’s mistake — or don’t. If you think you can handle the ghost pepper chip, you’d be in for the ride of your life with a lick of the world’s hottest hot sauces.