It’s no secret that Shaquille O’Neal has had a successful run selling shoes at discount family stores such as Walmart and Shoe Carnival. The Shaq-branded sneakers, which the Hall-of-Famer affectionately refers to as his “downstairs” business, borderline on copyright infringement in the way they almost exactly replicate popular Nike and Jordan silhouettes. According to Shaq, this is all by design.
“Kids don’t want to wear sneakers that cost $30 because they look like sneakers that cost $30,” he said. “I told my guys, ‘Don’t embarrass a kid when he goes to school. Make it look as close to the $100 shoe as possible.’ And that’s what’s keeping me alive downstairs.”
He recalled the moment early in his career that inspired him to get into making his own branded sneakers.
“A lady cursed me out one day at the arena. I reached in my pocket to give her $1,000 and she smacked it out of my hand,” Shaq reminisced. “She said, ‘Why doesn’t anyone try to make affordable shoes?’”
That led to him going to the company he was currently endorsed by to see if there was a way to work it into or around his existing sneaker contract. “Me and Reebok had a brief discussion and they allowed me to do my own thing downstairs, as well as upstairs,” Shaq said. “Since that, we’ve sold over 150 million pairs.”