Inside Shaquille O'Neal's Relationship With His Ex-Wife

NBA legend and big man Shaquille O'Neal was married to his now ex-wife Shaunie O'Neal (née Nelson, and now going by Shaunie Henderson) from 2002 until their separation in 2009 and eventual divorce the following year. Being married to the esteemed basketball star was not Henderson's only claim to fame, however. In her own regard, she is known for her role on VH1's "Basketball Wives," as well as "Shaunie's Home Court," a reality show that centers around life with her five children. Outside of starring on TV, Henderson also works behind the camera as an executive producer for several shows, including "Basketball Wives LA" and "Basketball Wives," per her IMDb page.

Over the years, O'Neal and Henderson had four children together and survived a brutal media spotlight on the most vulnerable areas of their marriage. Today, the two are friends and support each other through anything, ranging from new relationships to co-parenting. Here is an inside look into the pair's relationship, and all the ups and downs they experienced along the way.

Shaq met Shaunie not long after he moved to LA

Believe it or not, there was a time before Shaquille O'Neal played for the Los Angeles Lakers. Prior to his record-breaking career with the L.A. basketball team, O'Neal was a star player on the NBA's Orlando Magic team for a total of four years, from 1992 to 1996. By 1996, the athlete was a free agent, and it was at that time the Lakers made O'Neal an offer he couldn't refuse: $120 million over a seven-year period.

The cross-country move from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles was not the only life-changing moment for the legendary player. Not long after he started playing for the Lakers, O'Neal met film marketer Shaunie Henderson, though the exact details of how they initially crossed paths is unknown, as reported by People.

Some people tend to hang out in similar social circles, but for Henderson, dating an athlete was not common for her. In fact, she told Magic 102.1, a Houston-based radio station, "Shaquille was the very first athlete that I dated, and I grew up in L.A." But somehow, the two crossed paths, and the rest was history.

The two dated for years before starting a family

Shaquille O'Neal and Shaunie Henderson were engaged for a few years before they welcomed their first child, Shareef Rashaun O'Neal, on January 11, 2000, per The Los Angeles Times. Regarding the birth of his son, the athlete told the publication, "I don't talk about my personal life, but yes, I am a proud father." Shareef is following in his father's footsteps and has a career in basketball. He attended UCLA from 2018 to 2020, then transferred to his father's alma mater, LSU, and played for their basketball team until he signed with the NBA G League Ignite in 2022, as reported by USA Today.

With Henderson, O'Neal continued to grow his family, and the pair have four children together, the younger three being Amirah (born 2001), Shaqir (born 2003), and Me'arah (born 2006), per Pop Sugar. The former NBA player is also a stepfather to Myles O'Neal, whom Henderson had prior to linking with him, and the father to Taahirah O'Neal, whom he had with ex-girlfriend Arnetta Yardbourgh in 1996.

Their marriage ceremony was kept a secret

Off the court, Shaquille O'Neal has maintained a relatively low profile in regards to his personal life, especially important events. On December 26, 2002, he married Shaunie Henderson in a very private ceremony at the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel. In front of a close-knit group of family, friends, and even a handful of Lakers players, O'Neal and Henderson said "I do," and took their longtime relationship to the next level.

Privacy was a top priority for both O'Neal and Henderson, and they did not mess around when it came to taking proper measures to get what they wanted. According to People, the outside of the establishment, both security dogs and guards kept everyone from tourists to paparazzi away from the event. Even some of O'Neal's teammates, like Lakers guard Brian Shaw, were kept in the dark about the wedding details. "Since we didn't find out until the last minute what was going on, I didn't know it was black tie," Shaw told ESPN shortly after the ceremony.

Due to the intense security surrounding the ceremony, pictures of the newlyweds are limited, though a hovering helicopter was reportedly able to snap a number of photos of the event.

Shaq filed for divorce first

Just five years after Shaquille O'Neal and Shaunie O'Neal tied the knot, the Lakers center filed for divorce on September 4, 2007, per TMZ. According to the outlet, O'Neal accused his wife of mishandling his money and hiding spending habits from him, which led in part to their marriage falling apart. Additionally, court records obtained by People point to the NBA star requesting Henderson to "correct accounting of all money, funds, stocks, bonds, and other securities (including bearer securities)" possessed during their legal union. Regarding the custody of their children, O'Neal pushed for Henderson to have primary custody, with him having normal visitation rights.

While neither Shaq nor Shaunie publicly commented on the divorce filing, the basketball athlete's head coach, Pat Riley, told ESPN, "I hope everything works out. But, obviously, it's not the kind of news that you want to hear about one of your friends and also one of your players."

Though the split seemed final at the time, Shaunie had different ideas and instead wanted to fight for her marriage.

The two gave their marriage another shot

Approximately one month after Shaquille O'Neal filed for divorce from Shaunie, she formally filed a motion against her husband's request. According to court documents obtained by Extra, Shaunie not only asked for the divorce filing to be dismissed, but she also requested a "three-month continuance" so she and O'Neal could continue to work out their marital problems.

The divorce proceedings were stalled for approximately one year before the couple eventually called them off in August 2008. Touching on the impending divorce, Shaunie told the Associated Press at the time (via The Oklahoman), "Neither one of us could probably answer why we were getting one in the first place." Furthermore, the "Basketball Wives" producer explained that their relationship was so smooth that they even forgot they were going through a divorce. "We've agreed that before we leave Florida we'll make sure that [the divorce proceedings] are gone away," Henderson said.

The couple's smooth-sailing relationship did not last long, however, and nearly one year later, the two would be entangled in yet another divorce battle.

Shaunie called it quits the second time around

In a reversal of the couple's first potential divorce experience, Shaunie O'Neal filed for divorce from husband Shaquille O'Neal approximately one year after they called off their divorce originally filed in 2007. The LA Times reported that Henderson filed a motion for a legal separation from O'Neal on November 9, 2009, citing irreconcilable differences as the reason for the filing. Along with the separation, which she claimed would continue with a formal divorce, Henderson also requested legal and physical custody of their four children.

Henderson's requests did not stop with a legal separation and custody, however. According to People, the TV producer also sought both spousal and child support in the filing, though a monetary value was not determined at the time.

Another factor that further complicated the matters of the legal separation was Henderson's residence. Prior to the split, Henderson resided with O'Neal in Florida, as he played for the Miami Heat at the time. Just before the filing, however, she changed her legal residence to Los Angeles and brought the children with her, as reported by TMZ. According to the outlet, California is more favorable than Florida in the area of spousal support, which could have influenced her decision.

The hefty divorce settlement

Divorces in general can be difficult, but when a divorce occurs between two well-known, rich celebrities, it can take on a whole new level of messiness. For Shaquille O'Neal and Shaunie Henderson, it took months for the two to settle on a divorce agreement. 

According to TMZ, the former couple reached a divorce settlement in March 2010, approximately four months after Henderson initially filed for legal separation. The settlement was handled in both Florida and California courts, as O'Neal still resided in the Sunshine State while Henderson moved to Los Angeles just days before her official filing. 

Details of the settlement itself remain limited. The TMZ report explained that of the many elements weighed in the settlement, division of property and assets, child custody, and child support were the most important. Regarding a monetary share, O'Neal revealed in his 2011 autobiography, "Shaq Uncut: My Story," that he paid his ex-wife close to $50,000 a month: $10,000 in alimony and $10,000 in child support for each of their four children (via Sportscasting).

He blamed himself for the divorce

There are many factors that come into play when a divorce occurs, and for Shaquille O'Neal, he has taken responsibility for his actions that led to his split from Shaunie Henderson. In "Shaq Uncut: My Story," he revealed that infidelity and cheating on his end played a role in their relationship falling apart. "But I admit it — I was a guy. I was a guy with too many options. Choosing to be with some of those women, well, that's on me," O'Neal wrote (via Essence). Unfortunately, he chose to do what a lot of professional athletes do and was unfaithful.

Ten years after the NBA star released his tell-all book, he elaborated on the mistakes that he made in his marriage to Henderson, and subsequently praised her for all that she did during that difficult time. In an April 2022 episode of "The Pivot Podcast," O'Neal explained, "Sometimes when you live that double life, you get caught up. I'm not going to say it was her; it was all me ... She did exactly what she was supposed to do and gave me beautiful kids, take care of the house, take care of the corporate stuff. It was just all me." He admitted that getting older has given him perspective on the mistakes he made in the past.

Co-parenting remained a priority

Though Shaquille O'Neal and Shaunie Henderson's relationship did not end on the best of terms, the two put their differences aside to be present and dedicated to their children. Following the divorce, both O'Neal and Henderson prioritized co-parenting in a positive, healthy way, which the former Lakers player later revealed to Us Weekly in 2019. Discussing his role as a father, O'Neal told the outlet that his job is simple, saying, "It's a man's job to protect and provide. That's it." He also compared co-parenting to playing basketball in the sense that each person involved has a designated role with certain responsibilities to fulfill, but ultimately teamwork is what makes things work.

Henderson feels positive how she and her ex-husband handle their children. In March 2021, the "Basketball Wives" star and producer appeared on the "Tamron Hall Show," saying, "We have a great co-parenting relationship, seriously ... It took us a long time to get there, don't get me wrong, it was not an easy journey, but once we got there, and I think we felt comfortable being honest with each other and just sharing what was going on in our lives, in our personal lives to a certain extent."

Supporting each other goes beyond parenting their kids, as well. Both O'Neal and Henderson have been open about supporting all aspects of each other's lives, especially when it comes to new romantic partners.

Shaquille is supportive of Shaunie's new relationship

Being close to an ex-partner is not always easy, and it can be particularly awkward and uncomfortable when your ex finds a new romance. In the case of Shaquille O'Neal and ex-wife Shaunie Henderson, the NBA champion couldn't be more supportive of her love life with her new husband. In the April 2022 episode of "The Pivot Podcast," O'Neal openly shared his support for the two, saying, "She's happy now. She's about to marry a fine, young gentleman, and I'm happy for her, and we have a great relationship."

According to People, Shaunie met pastor Keion Henderson in 2019, and the two dated for close to two years before Keion proposed in November 2021. In May 2022, the couple tied the knot in the presence of family and friends on the island of Anguilla. Touching on Keion joining her large family, Shaunie told the outlet that he fits right in. "He's been amazing to just step into our lives and fill a void that's been there for a minute in a space of just being here with me ... They love him which makes me love him even more."

As for Shaq, he was previously linked to Laticia Rolle, but as of this writing, there have been rumored romances and mystery dates that weren't. Although his love life with Shaunie Henderson is now in the past, the two seem to have figured it out on how to make everything else work.