Shaquille O'Neal lives director dream

A commercial changed Shaquille O’Neal’s life.

And you bet he still remembers it: The Mean Joe Greene Coke ad. You know, this one?

“That was the best commercial ever,” O’Neal said by phone earlier this month. “[After watching it] I was like, even though I’m going to be mean, when people look at me I want them to say: ‘You know what? That Shaq’s a funny and nice guy.’”

Is it any wonder that O’Neal is directing commercials now?

Oh he is, recently sitting in the director’s chair at the University of Alabama’s for a PSA as part of LessThanUThink -- a six-school campaign to curb binge drinking on college campuses.

Shaq came aboard after LTUT blitzed him via social media. And instead of just starring in an ad, O’Neal said: “How about I direct it?”

Of course, that’s not the first time O’Neal has offered suggestions while doing spots.

“I’ve always been sneaking behind the camera,” he said. “My whole thing was, I know how I want to be viewed on TV, so most of my commercials you see have been written by me. I tell them how to shoot it and I tell them what to do.”

Then again, O’Neal -- who attended film school on the New York Film Academy’s Hollywood campus -- doesn’t want to be known as a directorial dictator. He’s also about to get his doctorate in leadership, and took one of those principles to heart in Tuscaloosa -- a philosophy, he said, helped him on this shoot more than anything he learned during his many, many roles on film and TV.

That principle?

“The smartest leaders are the ones that are smart enough to have people smarter them,” he said. “So as a director you don’t come in and try to do everything. You just use your talent, and you just sprinkle what you know at the end.

“These students here, they’ve been going to film school for five years and they do an unbelievable job. ... My job is to just manage the team, and I definitely know how to do that.”

The spot will go public in the fall. O’Neal will also be involved in post-production.