NBA basketball legend, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Shaquille O'Neal, has told CNBC that the next U.S. president must address "bringing people together" as a matter of urgency.
At 48-years-old, the 15-time NBA All Star recently went public on his decision to vote for the first time. In making the admission, O'Neal conceded he had "no excuse" for not voting previously, but said it "feels good" to have cast an early absentee ballot for president ahead of the Nov. 3 election. He did not reveal who he had voted for.
When asked what he thought could be done to unite people in the U.S. following the death of George Floyd — the African-American who died in May while in the custody of the Minneapolis police sparking anti-racism protests in the U.S. and around the world — the sports superstar said "a lot of things need to change".
"We probably need police reform, we need prison reform. A lot of attitudes need to change, a lot of thought processes need to change. Once we realize that then I think we can start opening things up," he said.
O'Neal has a history of voluntary service in law enforcement in the U.S. and in March 2019 it was announced he had become an auxiliary deputy at Broward County Sheriff's Office in Florida.
"People are tired and I understand that. But at some point we need to start bringing them back together. You would never think in 2020 we would be as divided as we are…But whatever is broke, we just have to fix it," he added.
The NBA icon turned analyst and founder of The Shaquille O' Neal Foundation whose mission is to support underserved youth, told CNBC in an upcoming episode of The Leadership League, he had experienced his own "fair share" of racism.
"A lot of time I just ignore it and just try to take it out on my opponent, but I don't, just because one person says that I don't hold it against everybody else, I just move on. But I'm 48, of course I've seen it before. I've seen a lot of things," he said.
The NBA Hall-of-Famer whose professional career began in 1992 with the Orlando Magic, and saw him win four NBA championship titles with the LA Lakers and Miami Heat, was speaking after the launch of the latest "Pepsi Stronger Together" initiative across the U.S.
O'Neal, who has been affiliated with Pepsi since the 1990s, will be collaborating on the project through the work of his own foundation.
Originally launched in May 2020 in response to the Covid-19 crisis, the national grassroots initiative provides investment and tailored schemes and resources to "empower and engage communities" across the U.S.
The latest expansion will also see partnerships with charities and NBA teams including Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies and the Washington Wizards.
Derek Lewis, south division president of PepsiCo Beverages North America, told CNBC that O'Neal was a "tremendous" partner on the project.
"Shaq has got tremendous appeal for everyone in the community… He embraced… the strength of community at a very, very early age and just really has carried that throughout his entire career. We want to feed off of that… his foundation is very passionate about that work," he said.
Speaking about the partnership, O'Neal told CNBC: "We want to provide a range of resources like student mentoring programs, support for schools, universities and historically Black colleges."
"We want to give back to sports and recreation facilities, domestic violence counselling resources, fostering conversation between community and local law enforcement, I want to do a lot," he said.
O'Neal, who is also known for his charity and philanthropic work, said his parents had always taught him to help those in need. "I always wanted to be a guy that just makes people smile, because whenever I see people, it doesn't matter your race, creed, religion, this is what I do. It's what life is all about… I smile and I say, 'Peace my brother, or Peace mam…' It's all about peace."