For 19 years, Shaquille O’Neal was an NBA behemoth. And throughout his career, his love life was as heavily scrutinized as his skills on the court. In addition to Shaq’s former wife of 9 years, Shaunie O’Neal, the basketball legend has been linked to countless women. There have been models, actresses, and reality TV personalities—Flavor of Love‘s Nicole “Hoopz” Alexander being among the most high profile of Shaq’s girlfriends.
Check out Shaq’s dating history over the years, and decide for yourself if he’s more or less of a ladies’ man than his former NBA counterparts.
Shaquille O’Neal: The Man, The Myth, The Legend
A high school basketball star in San Antonio, Texas, Shaquille O’Neal went on to Louisiana State University and majored in business. While on the team at LSU, O’Neal was a two-time All-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year. He was named the NCAA men’s basketball player of the year in 1991, as well as college player of the year by AP and UPI.
Shaq left his spot on the college team early to pursue his NBA dreams. In 1992, the Orlando Magic selected him as the first overall pick in the draft. In his first week in the league, he was named Player of the Week. In 1993, Shaq was named NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging 23.4 points on 56.2 percent shooting, 13.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game for the season.
Shaq wasn’t just a basketball player—he was a pop culture phenomenon. Between his massive stature, on and off-court antics, and admittedly dismal free throw record, he built a reputation that made him bigger than the NBA itself.
That’s not to say his personality outweighed his talent. In 19 seasons, Shaq saw 17 playoffs. He earned four championships and was a three-time MVP. And his moves on the court were legendary. Check out the number three clip in these top ten highlights, where he literally brings the backboard crashing to the ground.
Following his 2011 retirement, Shaq didn’t retreat from the spotlight. The Hall of Famer currently serves as an analyst for Inside the NBA on TNT with co-hosts Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith. He’s had cameos in a number of films (Kazaam, Blue Chips, DC Comics’ Steel) and he’s also the king of endorsements, Shaq has gladly signed on to plug a laundry list of brands: Icy Hot, VitaminWater, Burger King, Kraft Foods, Pepsi, Comcast, Radio Shack, and Taco Bell. And how could anyone miss his TV commercials for The General Automobile Insurance Services.
But as open as he might be to media exposure, the details of his personal life don’t often make tabloid headlines. Many fans are unaware of Shaq’s dating history, and whether or not he’s ever even had a wife.
From 1992 to 1996, Shaq was linked to his high school sweetheart Arnetta Yardbourgh. Yardbourgh was spotted at the 1992 draft in support of her then-boyfriend, but other than that, little is known about their relationship. She gave birth to their one and only child, daughter Taahirah, the same year they split.
In 1998, Shaq met Shaunie Nelson. Working in two-year increments, O’Neal proposed to her in 2000 and then tied the knot in 2002.
In addition to Taahirah and Myles (Shaunie’s son from a previous relationship), the couple has four children: Shareef, Amirah, Shaqir, and Me’arah. It’s worth noting that Shareef, 20, followed in his father’s footsteps and is currently a power forward for LSU’s basketball team.
Shaq and Shaunie separated in 2007 but the pair reconciled shortly after their announcement. However, the two were off again by 2009, with Shaunie officially filing for divorce. She went on to produce and star in the VH1 reality series Basketball Wives before the divorce was finalized in 2011.
“When I put this sweatshirt on, so many emotions and memories ran through my mind,” she wrote. “As I reflect on the last few months, I’m reminded to say I love you more, spend more time laughing, and less time trying to control what is out of my control! I pray you all are safe, enjoying your family and helping those who need a little more assistance during these times.”
O’Neal chimed in to say, “And I love your [sic] more, Mrs. Oneal.” The remark immediately sparked rumors that the two could repair their almost decade-long relationship. But nothing seemed to have ever transpired after the exchange. After a few years of living the single life, Shaq appeared to ready to move on with a new woman.
Who Is Nicole ‘Hoopz’ Alexander?
In 2010, Shaq began dating Nicole “Hoopz” Alexander. Alexander, formerly a TSA agent in Detroit, rose to fame in 2006 as a contestant on the VH1 series Flavor of Love. Vying for the attention of Public Enemy rapper Flavor Flav, Alexander beat controversial co-star Tiffany “New York” Pollard in a heated finale to win the show.
Two years later, she returned to VH1 to compete in the reality all-star show I Love Money. She claimed victory once again, beating 16 other contestants to take home a prize of $250,000.
Shaq reportedly proposed to Alexander in 2010 at a St. Louis restaurant and hookah lounge. They were a striking couple, with Shaq’s 7’2″ frame standing in stark contrast against the 5’2″ Alexander. Turns out they had other major differences, too—in 2012, after the two were seen in “a heated argument in front of several children at a gymnastics training center in Orlando, Florida,” they split for good.
Who Else Has Shaq Dated?
Ever since his break-up with Hoopz, Shaq has been casually playing the field. A few ladies he’s been seen with include model Laticia Rolle and author Karrine Steffans.
However, Shaq was also involved in a couple of scandalous affairs. In 2009, a private email surfaced between the b-ball legend and Laura Govan—star of Basketball Wives L.A. and the mother NBA player Gilbert Arenas’ four children. Despite denials, it turns out the two were seeing each other while Shaq was still married to Shaunie O’Neal.
The following year, salacious texts between Shaq and Swedish model Dominica Westling were also leaked.
“I admit it — I was a guy,” Shaq wrote in this memoir, Shaq Uncut: My Story. “I was a guy with too many options. Choosing to be with some of those women, well, that’s on me. In my mind, I never did it disrespectfully, but obviously I shouldn’t have done it all.”
These days, Shaq appears to be linked to Annie Ilonzeh. The 37-year-old actress appeared on General Hospital and Empire before her role as Emily Foster on the popular NBC drama Chicago Fire. The pair were first rumored to be dating in 2019, but were seen as recently as September on holiday in Spain. Neither has confirmed the relationship, but signs definitely point to something more meaningful than a fling.