Shaq: Robin Hood or Superhero
By David Wilkening
It’s no surprise larger-than-life NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal has a Superman on the floor of the movie theatre in his upscale Orlando home, but is he having delusions of grandeur in another area: the home foreclosure issue?
The 7 foot, one inch, 350-pound basketball star says he is working on plans to help homeowners facing foreclosure in Orlando with the possibility of taking his plan to other areas. “That’s a question he hasn’t answered yet,” said Curtis Cooper, a Central Florida mortgage banker who is also a long-time friend of O’Neal.
Attorney Mark NeJame says the star center wants to buy the mortgages of homeowners who have slipped into foreclosure because of high interest rates. He said the plan, still in its initial stages would involve selling the homes back to those buyers with more affordable terms. “Hes become a businessman with a conscience,” says NeJame.
“I want to come in not to kick them out but to work with them and save them so they can stay in their homes,” O’Neal says. There are few details about the plan and Cooper says it is still being formulated, but that more information will be coming in the next few weeks. Associates of O’Neal say there are various ways he could make a profit on the plan by re-doing mortgages.
O’Neal, traded to the Phoenix Suns, began his NBA career with the Orlando Magic. Often playful in the past when he declared he wanted to be sheriff of either Orange County or in Miami where he played with the Heat, O’Neal is serious about this venture, according to associates.
He has been active before in real estate. In 2006, he announced the formation of The O’Neal Group, a commercial and residential development company. Shaq has amassed a real estate portfolio worth $50 million in ventures ranging from strip malls to condos. O’Neal earns about $20 million a year as a basketball player, not including endorsement deals.
As word spread that O’Neal might be on the verge of helping homeowners facing foreclosure, thousands of people contacted Shaq.
“He has two or three thousand e-mails,” says Cooper. “Many of those are from potential business partners but the vast majority is homeowners only weeks or days away from foreclosure.”
Whether or not O’Neal is successful remains to be seen as details come out about his plan, but it does appear that his “Superman” effort is not a publicity stunt, though O’Neal has said he might make a reality show about his efforts called “Shaq’s Big Save.”
“He’s sincere about it,” Cooper says. “He wants to help as many people as we can.”