INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Shaquille O’Neal has made a career out of twisting around opposing centres.
Now he is doing it to himself.
After a summer of boxing, football, beach volleyball and swimming, Shaq has a new hobby – yoga. He attended his first class at a suburban Cleveland studio on Wednesday night.
“I’m the worst yoga student in the history of yoga,” O’Neal said Thursday.
His massive seven-foot-one, 325-pound frame needed two mats, according to Tami Schneider, owner of Cleveland Yoga in Beachwood. She was O’Neal’s instructor for the class and is special ordering a 100-inch mat for her new student, who promised he’ll be back.
“He’s got some tight hamstrings,” Schneider said. “He’s obviously a big, strong man. He told me he doesn’t stretch very often and that was pretty apparent. I’m looking forward to working with him to get him into some deeper stretches.”
O’Neal was interested in Schneider’s “hot yoga” class, which is practised in a room heated to between 30 and 32 C. It’s designed to purify and make the body sweat, release toxins and enhance stretching.
That’s important to O’Neal, who needed some modifications for a few of the exercises, like crossing one thigh over the other.
“His thighs are gigantic and so strong, they’re as big as my whole body,” Schneider said. “So he was able to cross his ankles and that was just fine.”
For a forward bend, students are instructed to reach down to the ground in front of them. O’Neal needed blocks to bring the floor closer to him.
Still, Schneider said O’Neal is not the worst yoga student she’s seen in her 12 years.
“Not at all,” she said. “He came in just like a regular guy. He was alone, which was nice, and he seemed to feel right at home at the studio. He fit right in.”
O’Neal spent the off-season filming his reality show “Shaq Vs,” in which he competed against various top athletes in their sports. He traded punches with Oscar De La Hoya, intercepted Ben Roethlisberger passes and even swam against Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps.
Teammates already have remarked that O’Neal looks to be in terrific shape, which he credits to a summer in the pool.
Now the 37-year-old wants to work on his flexibility.
“You just want to stay loose. You have to do different things to stay loose,” O’Neal said. “I have a lot of time on my hands because I’m new to the city and I don’t have any hangout spots yet.”
O’Neal was traded to the Cavaliers over the summer and already likes what he sees on his new team. He has won four NBA titles, but thinks this Cavaliers team could be the best yet.
“It’s probably the best team I’ve ever played on, on paper anyway,” O’Neal said. “I’ve always been on management to get me the power forward I’ve needed and the shooters I’ve needed.”
With O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers went 67-15 and won a championship in 2000.
The Cavaliers won 66 games last season, but added O’Neal and former Toronto Raptors Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon after losing to Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals.
O’Neal said he likes having guys like Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao with him in the post, along with shooters like LeBron James and Mo Williams.
“When the big fella talks, you have to listen because he’s been around a long time and his resume speaks for itself,” coach Mike Brown said. “He’s been on a lot of teams. If he says that, it’s something that has to be heard.”