Shaquille O'Neal won four NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal in a career that likely will land him in the Hall of Fame.
O'Neal said he owes a lot of it to his 1989 state championship team and coaches at San Antonio Cole High School. They were honored at the Texas state tournament Saturday on the 25th anniversary of their title.
"We were just a little school in San Antonio. No one believed in us, but the lessons I learned at Cole carried my whole career — being humble, playing hard, working with your teammates," O'Neal said. "Cole gave me the start of my dreams."
O'Neal's military family moved to San Antonio before his junior year.
"I was just a kid from Germany," O'Neal said.
That "kid" was already nearly 6-foot-10 and still growing. One coach briefly pushed him toward football, which didn't take. As a senior, O'Neal averaged 32 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocks in leading Cole to a 36-0 record and the Class 3A state title.
On Friday, Cole retired his No. 33 high school jersey. On Saturday, University Interscholastic League director Charles Breithaupt called O'Neal the "greatest player to ever play" in the Texas state tournament. Future NBA stars such as Chris Bosh, T.J. Ford and Kendrick Perkins also won state titles.
O'Neal remembered Cole started slow in the '89 championship game.
"The look on everyone's face was kind of blank, the fans were quiet," said O'Neal, who told his teammates to give him the ball and they would win.
They did, 66-60 against Clarksville, behind O'Neal 19 points, 26 rebounds, three blocks and six assists.
After high school, O'Neal signed at LSU with dreams of playing in the NBA.
"My dream in high school was to make $8 million for a five-year NBA contract," O'Neal said. "I dreamed of having a little house and two cars, a Mercedes ... Things turned out a lot better than that."