Right now, NBA icon Shaquille O’Neal has earned the reputation of being one of the funniest and nicest dudes around the league. When he’s not making hilarious jokes during NBA on TNT broadcasts, Shaq is out doing all sorts of charitable work out of the genuine goodness of his heart.

It’s hard to imagine that this gentle giant once used to be the meanest kid you could ever come across. Shaq had a tough childhood growing up which involved moving around quite a bit. Apparently, this had a significant impact on him as a young boy as he expressed his emotions by being a violent bully:

“Every time I went to a place, I made my name quickly,” O’Neal reveals in a recent issue of PEOPLE. “I’d find out who ‘the guy’ was, study him, and I’d beat him up. Take his spot. Everybody knew who I was.

“I almost killed a kid. They showed me the jail. I shifted everything into becoming the class clown. Just to make people like me. It was [another] mechanism for [dealing with my insecurity]. I wasn’t a leader yet. I was a follower on the wrong path.”

You also have to note that Shaq was a big kid, and that no one could stand up to him even if they wanted to. He used his strength to his advantage, and this almost ruined his life permanently.

It’s a good thing that Shaq was able to find the right path. As he said, converting into being the class clown wasn’t a one-stop solution for him and he still had to find his way. Focusing on and exerting all his energy on basketball obviously worked wonders for him, and this has now made him one of the greatest players of all time.

In hindsight, however, Shaq’s life could have turned out much, much differently.