Shaq, Allen Iverson and Angel Reese inspire us to keep climbing, periodt

OPINION: Sometimes you have to crawl over tacks to reach a goal. The lucky catapult to the finish line with what looks like ease. Three athletes demonstrate that no matter the path, the key is to never quit.

Reebok, Shaquille O'Neal, Angel Reese, Allen Iverson,
Shaquille O’Neal, Angel Reese, Allen Iverson inspire all of us as they chase dreams and achieve success at Reebok. (Left to right photo credits: Kennedy Pollard/Getty Images for RBC; Maddie Meyer/Getty Images; Mindy Small/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

The mother recounting her experiences in Langston Hughes’ famous poem isn’t necessarily talking about poverty, though the dilapidated conditions she describes suggest a lack of means. But if we replace material things with the inner workings of hearts and minds, we realize that rich and poor alike can face the same journey, dealing with tacks and splinters, torn boards and bare floors, sometimes in the dark. 

The message to that son, irrespective of family wealth, is to keep climbing, continue growing and going, no matter how hard you struggle. I’m certain that Allen Iverson can relate, even after earning more than $200 million in his career. Yes, if you’re gonna be unhappy either way, it’s better to have money. But there’s ample evidence that happiness can’t be bought at any price.

Iverson’s journey from a rough neighborhood in Newport News, Virginia, to the basketball Hall of Fame contained numerous disappointments and embarrassments. Setbacks include a racially fueled conviction for a bowling alley altercation that led to four months in prison for 17-year old Iverson before Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder granted a pardon. A lifeline from Georgetown coach John Thompson paved the way for Iverson’s iconic status as an NBA baller and cultural force. But it didn’t spare him from a messy public divorce, drinking too much and filing for bankruptcy. And it didn’t ease the hurt of being cut from the 2008 Olympic team.

By comparison, Shaquille O’Neal seems to have spent his life on a golden staircase. Dominant in college, overpowering in the NBA , and incomparable in business, Shaq has stretched boundaries for former ballplayers. Natasha Brison, a Texas A&M professor who specializes in athlete branding, told the Los Angeles Times that O’Neal “has literally reshaped what it means to be a retired athlete.”

That was before last week, when O’Neal became Reebok’s president of basketball. He’s joined by Iverson, who’ll serve as vice president of basketball.

The two make an odd couple at first glance. O’Neal, raised by a stepfather who was an Army sergeant, has been a reserve police officer and sworn sheriff’s deputy, and continues to work closely with law enforcement. Iverson, raised by a teen mom, helped bring hip-hop culture to the NBA, which instituted a dress code in 2005 when it feared that style alienated potential fans. There’s Shaq, the affable 7-footer who made white folks comfortable, and Iverson, the menacing 6-footer who made them uneasy.

But both have made money for Reebok, which signed the No. 1 overall draft picks in 1992 (O’Neal) and 1996 (Iverson) straight out of college. O’Neal played at LSU and didn’t waste time making a move, signing star Angel Reese from his alma mater as she enters her junior season.  

“For my first appointment in this role, it had to be the GOAT,” O’Neal said. “There is no one making a bigger impact on the game right now than Angel Reese.”

The “Bayou Barbie” is another celebrity who can warn girls and boys about choppy steps in life, even as kids envy her surging wealth and fame. She endured wrath tinged with racism after taunting Iowa’s Caitlin Clark last season, en route to the national championship. Reebok couldn’t pick a better athlete to promote self-identity for Black and brown youngsters.

Reebok, Angel Reese,
LSU’s Angel Reese reacts in front of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark during the second half of the NCAA Women’s Final Four championship basketball game Sunday, April 2, 2023, in Dallas. LSU won 102-85 to win the championship. (Photo by Tony Gutierrez, AP)

“Be authentically and unapologetically you,” she told “Never stay in a box or let anybody put you in a box. Be confident, stand strong and stand firm on who you are.”

That strategy pays off whether you’re a famous baller or an inconspicuous cog in the workforce. Celebrities like Shaq, A.I. and Reese enjoy more cash flow, but otherwise face the same challenges that make us human – dealing with family, friends, colleagues and self. 

Sports puts them on a platform that seems beyond reach, but they’re right beside us, not above us. We can see ourselves in them, each of us making our way through a system designed to thwart us. 

Teach the children that crystal stairs aren’t part of the picture. Sport or not, fame or anonymity, we gotta keep climbing anyway.

The ancestors are watching.

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at

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