The Story of Shaquille O'Neal's Dunkman

A Budget Friendly Sneaker Empire


Sneakers and basketball; bread and butter; movies and popcorn. They're simply better together. More so than other sports, basketball has penetrated mainstream fashion. Sneaker brands like Nike captured the spirit and imagination of the culture with sneaker marketing, pushing the newest sportswear technology and exploiting consumer nostalgia, while star athlete's signature sneaker lines literally bridge the product and the people.

There are the obvious signature sneaker Mt. Rushmore picks: Jordans, Kobes, Lebrons, Iversons. But today we are talking about Shaq. A four-time NBA champion on the hardwood and lovable 7-foot-1 goofball everywhere else, Shaquille O'Neal is a persistently relevant figure in pop culture. His shoe line, though, doesn't garner much attention. But there's more to this story than meets the eye.

via. JAY VERSACE on YouTube

It begins in 1992, when Shaq signed a five-year, $40 million deal with Reebok for his first signature sneaker, the Shaq Attaq 1, which came in the Orlando colorway, and featured Reebok's Pump technology. Contrary to popular belief, the Shaq Attaq 1 was the first sneaker to utilize a carbon fiber plate, not the Air Jordan 11.

Although the initial release was well-received, the subsequent Shaq line of sneakers was no smash hit. The consensus at that point was that big men can't sell sneakers. It's not that the shoes didn't sell at all, but Reebok was expecting Jordan numbers. Nonetheless, without the Shaq Attaq paving the way for Reeboks basketball division, we likely wouldn’t have seen Iverson’s signature sneaker line.

MJ drives on Shaq in Jordan 11's - the big man defends in a pair of Shaqnosis 

"You watch people before you...I was following Mike. Nobody's ever gonna beat Mike, but you know how it is on the block, if you can't beat him, you could be next to him… Of course, everybody [is] gonna pick the Mikes, but you know you may have some Shaq fans, you may have some other fans that [might] want something different so, all my shoes did very well." Shaquille O’Neal on All Urban Central

Pictured: Reebok Shaq Attaq/Shaq Attaq 4/Shaqnosis via. StockX

After 6 years, the partnership between Reebok and O'Neal came to an end in 1998. "Reebok told me I wasn't selling enough shoes," Shaq recalled. But he was already working behind the scenes, and had taken on an interesting business venture a few years prior. It all started when O'Neal exited an Orlando Magic practice in 1995.

"One day, I'm walking out the Orlando arena, and this lady cursing me out you mother f'ers, y'all be charging our babies all this money for the shoe, and I was young in the business, I was like, ma'am, I don't make the price, but here you go, I got $2000 here buy whatever you want... she smacked the money on my ass and she said, somebody need to make an affordable shoe, so then I said you know what she's right, 'cuz I remember coming up I would never go into home and ask my dad hey can I borrow a hundred dollars and buy some shoes either, he'd look at me think I was crazy." Shaquille O’Neal on All Urban Central

Confronted with a problem, Shaq was quick to capitalize on the opportunity. That same year, O'Neal struck a deal with Los Angeles-based marketing and distribution giant ACI International to produce low-price sneakers, and proceeded to sell 2 million pairs in the first year. This adroit move reflected Shaq’s keen eye for business, one he was developing before he even graduated to the NBA. O'Neal recalled a confrontation with a marketing professor at LSU:

"I remember being in a marketing class one day and my professor said to me, Big men can't sell... I was so pissed, I almost got out of the class."

Instead, O’Neal learned the ins and outs of marketing. While the young star was receiving the customary attention of a promising NBA draftee, he stayed focused, smart, and, most importantly, confident in himself. Just as his NCAA basketball career ended at LSU, O'Neal trademarked his logo: the Dunkman.


"I knew I was good, I thought I was going to be great, and it was my job and my people's job to convince [brands] that I was going to be great and convince them to want to sell the product... The hard thing to do was make them believe in it, because no big guy in the history of marketing from the game [of basketball] has ever sold anything." Shaquille O'Neal at a Reebok event in 2013

O’Neal, way ahead of his time, became the first player to enter the NBA with a trademarked logo. With his trademark directly tied to himself from the jump, he was able to market his brand on his terms, something that eluded even stars like Jordan.

Shaq, ever the innovator, also had an actual shoe-phone made, which...
Doubled as a camcorder

It was a bold move that paid dividends in the future. Even after parting ways with Reebok, O'Neal was able to restructure and keep his brand alive. By 2000, the Shaq brand was doing well enough to warrant a spinoff brand. In partnership with his former agent Leonardo Amato, Shaq launched an e-shop called This venture did not go as planned, owing in part to the fallout of the dot-com bubble burst. It is estimated that O'Neal and company lost about $20 million.

Now: the elephant in the room. You don't have to be an expert to realize that O'Neal's budget-friendly sneakers are borderline rip-offs of Jordans. Indeed, it’s a running joke among sneaker enthusiasts.

via. Stockx

But this is a non-issue for the man behind the curtains. O'Neal's sneaker venture started with one thing in mind: to provide sneakers to those who can't afford them.

It’s a growing population. While sneakers became the vehicle for marketing the necessity of sports performance technology, whether it be air, pump, or boost, sportswear companies jacked up the price, icing out a considerable portion of the hoop and sneaker loving community.

via. Simon Song on South China Morning Post

The Shaq brand was conceived to solve this problem when no one else seemed to care. Through the years, O'Neal expanded his line of products, and even created a second brand in 2001, the Dunkman. While Shaq and Dunkman saw a considerable amount of success by collaborating with Payless and Sketchers in the U.S., elsewhere the brand had a different perception. In 2006, O'Neal signed a 5-year collaboration with Chinese sportswear giant Li-ning, spawning a series of limited products featuring the Dunkman logo, ironically, making the Dunkman logo a status symbol among Chinese consumers.

The sport of basketball has produced a considerable amount of superstars that transcend time and culture. So too do their sneakers. As much as the performance (or sometimes even more than the performance), the brand that the sneaker is associated with is of importance. Shaquille O'Neal understood this at a young age, and he realized the sneakers closely tied to the game of basketball were becoming unattainable. He listened to that woman who stopped him after practice. He saw the gaping hole in the sneaker industry. And he did something about. While O'Neal will probably not be jumping over Jumpman or fooling sneakerheads anytime soon, the Dunkman is a symbol of something else in sneaker culture: democracy.