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GRAPEVINE Shaquille O'Neal doesn't seem like your normal speaker to open an NCAA convention, but here he was bigger than life at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine talking to conventioneers about his marketing philosophy.

"To me, image is reality," Shaq told the crowd. "You can't create an image, and if you do create an image, you can't live up to it. I had this debate with a big marketing firm. I told them, 'You can't bring 20 people in here with degrees and create an image for me, because it won't work.' So I m going to tell you what my image is: My image is humorous, funny and a likeable guy, and for me it s been working."

When Shaq left LSU, he promised his parents he would come back and get his degree.

He did better than that. He not only got his degree, he got a master's and a doctorate, so you can't call him "Shaq" any more,

Just call him "Dr. O'Neal."

"As far as getting my doctorate, I just wanted to challenge myself," Shaq said. "I wanted to see if I could do it, and as a father of six, I thought it was good for them to see me educate and challenge myself."

Shaq said he had lots of ideas about what to do after his 19-year NBA career, including law school.

"For me, the goal would be to own a law firm," he said. "I thought about it... probably not."

In addition to commercials, TV shows and movies, Shaq says he owns a chain of forty 24-Hour Fitness clubs and 155 Five Guys hamburger restaurants.

Like everyone else, he also has a list of role models he looks up to, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

"My favorite business people are like, you know, the smart ones Mark Cuban, Donald Trump, and Roger Enrico, who used to be CEO of Pepsi. People like that," Shaq said. "I've devised ways of just owning stuff without doing all the work, and all I do right now is just manage people... and as you can see from by $600 Men's Warehouse suit, I m doing pretty fabulous."

Shaq always said he wanted something to fall back on after basketball, and it sounds like he's well on his way.

E-mail griba@wfaa.com

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