Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal showed up to work at 5 a.m. today, I’m told as I waltz into New York’s Chelsea Market roughly six hours later.
Shaq is here to promote Oreos and we’re testing out a “mind reading Oreo” technology game. He didn’t know it yet, but I’d made it my new life goal to beat him at this made-up game, if only so I could utter the same words Aaron Carter once did in his hit 2001 single, “That’s How I Beat Shaq.”
“Look at his shoes, he’s wearing size 23 Toms!” whispers an associate as I watch the former NBA pro laugh and joke with everyone in the room.
He’s shooting promos for Oreo in a glass-encased room, where fans have gathered outside. Because he’s Shaq, he keeps bringing people in for selfies. O’Neal even spent a few minutes convincing a mother to come inside and hand over her baby. He loves the baby and the baby loves him.
Shaq is more imposing than you’d expect him to be and even friendlier than you’d think. He likes to give cameramen and photographers a hard time when they take too many shots of him, but still never says no. He found out someone working on the Oreo account didn’t have a girlfriend so he spent part of the event trying to drum up a date for him. Shaq told me that he’s a great matchmaker.
He’s also great at portion control. The Basketball Hall of Famer told me that he always eats at least three Oreos when he sits down to eat the cookies, but he never goes past a sleeve. Shaq pairs his Oreos with 2 percent milk (he dips each one twice) even though the move is actually quite risky for him.
“I’m lactose intolerant,” he said. When I asked if he takes a Lactaid beforehand, O’Neal said no.
We got into the best varieties of Oreos (Shaq likes lemon and mint-covered Oreos, but says Original is the best). He told me Oreo Thins were “cute” and expressed interest in a new flavor he just heard about, called Pumpkin Spice, though he doesn’t want to try them. He’s also never had a double-stuffed Oreo and has no interest in trying them.
“I’m big on rituals. I’ve been doing this for years, no need to switch up now,” Shaq said. “Even though I did switch up [with] the lemon.”
We delve into locker room snacks (he said there were always peanut butter sandwiches around) and after a few more minutes of chit chat, the interview was coming to a close. It was almost time to participate in this made-up game, one where we use “mind reading technology” to move an Oreo ― hanging by a string from the ceiling ― in order to complete a “hands-free dunk.” Participants wear a white headband with “brain sensing technology” that is somehow connected to a cookie:
To win, one must concentrate on the cookie and move it forward using only your mind, like so:
I’d gotten in one round of practice before my interview (I’d miss the coveted Oreo dunk by millimeters) and then watched Shaq crush a fellow interviewee before we met up. Despite Shaq’s size, strength and incredible athletic ability, I had a feeling I could beat him.
“Do you want to play against me in the Oreo challenge?” I asked in a shaky voice as we got up from the couches where I was interviewing him. My stomach was rumbling, but I couldn’t tell if it was from nerves or the amount of Oreos I’d eaten.
“If you wanna lose,” he said.
We walked over to the table where the game was set up and we’d attempt to out-mind-read each other. I accepted a blue hair tie from an Oreo associate so I could put my hair up and properly put on my “mind reading” headband.
“She’s putting her hair up, she’s serious!” Shaq said. I was. Shaq began chatting with a few fans before we got into the game, which allowed me some time to practice my Oreo mantra. Apparently by concentrating on the dangling cookie and blocking everything out, you could move it faster to your side of the table and dunk it.
Finally, the time had come to play. Shaq and I counted to three and then pressed a button on an iPad to get the game going. I immediately focused on my Oreo with razor-sharp concentration, drawing laughs from Shaq.
“OHHHH, look at her eyes!” he said. “Wow.” He tried psyching me out by magically waving his hands and then putting his head down to concentrate, but it didn’t work. Pretty soon, my Oreo was moving and Shaq’s was staying still.
“Progress report!” he demanded. An Oreo associate answered, “She’s beating you, Shaq.”
“It ain’t moving!” he said, while I took this joyous opportunity to shit talk one of the greatest athletes of all time. “I’m in your head, Shaq,” I said.
Finally, his Oreo started to move a little bit, but I was close to victory. I started to smile like an idiot, eyes crossing as I stared at the Oreo quickly approaching my forehead.
I think my scream of victory at the end says it all:
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