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Former NBA Star Shaquille O’Neal’s Journey From Athlete to Franchise Owner and Papa John’s Board Member

How the basketball Hall of Famer’s entrepreneurial endeavors brought Shaq to franchising, where he built up a multi-brand portfolio that eventually led him to occupy a role on the Papa John’s board.

How does one go from being an NBA superstar to a serial entrepreneur? Ask Shaquille O’Neal, basketball Hall of Famer and multi-unit, multi-brand franchise owner. After concluding his on-court career in 2011, O’Neal decided to invest his earnings into multiple entrepreneurial endeavors to complement his broadcasting, acting and music careers (we’ve all seen an Icy Hot or Gold Bond commercial featuring the big man, haven’t we?), which included diving into the world of franchise ownership. 

In addition to over 150 car washes and 40 fitness centers, O’Neal currently owns 17 Auntie Anne’s locations, an Atlanta-area Krispy Kreme location and at one time was the owner of over 155 Five Guys restaurants on top of his current portfolio. In the latest move to bolster his franchise acumen, O’Neal joined the Papa John’s Board of Directors in March 2019, where he’s not only invested in nine stores but has also signed a three-year endorsement deal as the brand’s newest ambassador. 

O’Neal said his career in franchise ownership took off after he bought a book that laid out the basics of owning a business. Since then, he’s been hooked. From buying and selling Krispy Kreme and Five Guys locations to owning his own restaurants in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles, O’Neal is always looking to invest in something he believes in. He’s known for only investing in brands that he personally likes, so when an opportunity to collaborate with one of his favorite pizza brands arose, he seized the opportunity.

The timing was ideal for the brand, as well—Shaq joined the company after Papa John’s long-drawn-out disassociation from its founder, John Schnatter. O’Neal joined the brand’s Board of Directors and became a brand ambassador to help positively realign Papa John’s in the media and with its franchise system. O’Neal said he plans to continue drawing on his experience as a leader on the court to help him in both his entrepreneurial roles and new role on the Papa John's board, a skill set that has clearly proved useful thus far.