Walk along the pier, which begins in the backyard of Shaquille O’Neal’s Windermere mansion in Florida, all the way to a docking station built over Lake Butler, and you’ll spot the military-esque silhouette of a straight-backed man, head held high, arms akimbo, boots planted firmly apart, facing the water. Step closer, and the red cape with its unmistakable S logo – the Kryptonian symbol of hope – comes into focus: it’s a life-sized sculpture of Superman, the larger-than-life basketball player’s favourite superhero and one of his many monikers.
In fact, references to the Man of Steel are peppered across this three-acre estate, most notably within the 31,000-square-foot main house. The logo is superimposed on the mattress in O’Neal’s bedroom. It appears on a panel in the two-way mirrored garage, in the game room and the home theatre, and even on the glass door of the spacious master bathroom. The symbol takes on its most dramatic avatar when embedded into a three-dimensional wall mural, which features a true-to-size tractor trailer barrelling down an expressway, seemingly towards the interior of the living room. The truck’s front cab – with a fish-tank-shaped Superman grille and a gleaming fender with the word Diesel (another of the NBA champion’s nicknames) emblazoned across it – juts out of the wall and into the living space, which is furnished with in-built double sofas. Painted on to the driver’s seat? A serious-looking Shaquille O’Neal himself.
The room is just one of countless examples of the residence's extraordinary design aesthetic. A show-car garage doubles as the fitness centre, while the soundproof home theatre seats 10, has its own popcorn machine, and is lined with Superman movie posters, including a rare specimen of 1951's Superman and the Mole Men, plus one of Wolverine thrown in for good measure. Elsewhere, a gallery hall has been built to accommodate an ambitious art collection, while a seemingly random Egyptian-themed room, complete with hieroglyphics on the walls, has majlis-style seating and comes with an enormous pyramid-shaped saltwater aquarium. The home starred in the MTV show Cribs in 2003.
Above all, this is a space built for entertaining. Dubbed Shaq-apulco by O’Neal, the backyard has a mammoth 95-foot swimming pool with a depth of 15 feet at one end, plus a submerged bar, a sunken hot tub, a tailor-made rock waterfall gushing out from over a series of boulders, and is served by its own expansive summer kitchen. The pool deck features tiki-style cabanas that overlook the beach, which comes with a boathouse and that private pier leading to where Clark Kent’s alter-ego stands guard.
If it’s an indoor party you’re after, consider starting in the two-level "great room" with a quaint arched passageway, dual winding staircases, hand-crafted wood mouldings, a fireplace that reaches the ceiling, a bar area and a wall of glass overlooking Lake Butler. Move on to a sit-down meal in the wood-panelled formal dining room, which seats 16, and is equipped with a massive temperature-controlled, cedar-planked humidor and an ice-maker. The main kitchen is close at hand, and comes equipped with an L-shaped breakfast counter, appliances from Viking, Wolf and Sub-Zero, a six-foot granite-top cooking table and a two-way coral-stone fireplace, which it shares with a family room. Further on, a “gentleman’s room”, with dark woods and low lights, has another bar and game tables, with a balcony overlooking the lake.
The pièce de résistance is a 6,000-square-foot basketball court (naturally), complete with bleachers, framed jerseys and other memorabilia, yet more Superman insignia on the walls and a logo of Miami Heat, one of the teams O’Neal played for between 2004 and 2008, on the floor. Music lovers can head to the main showroom-style, 17-car garage, which then branches off into a dance studio and a separate enclosed recording studio, where Justin Timberlake and band recorded NSync’s demo tapes and first batch of songs.
An entire wing on the second level, conveniently kept apart from the property’s party nooks, is dedicated to O’Neal’s living quarters. The 900-square-foot bedroom has a 15-foot round bed, custom-created for his 7-foot-plus frame, and facing a projector; the walk-in closet is spread across four rooms; the “Shaq-size” his-and-hers bathroom comes with vanity sinks and jetted showers; and there’s a balcony on either side. The guest wing has its own living room and bar, and five en-suite bedrooms, and the entire home is wired with Creston Home Control technology.
For the landscaped exterior, O’Neal sought special permission to clear the foliage in the area behind the house, which means you can walk directly from doorstep to beach. The 3.94-acre estate sits within Isleworth, a gated golfing community that was also home to Tiger Woods and singer Joey Fatone. It is a 20-minute drive from Orlando’s famed amusement parks.
New Jersey native O'Neal picked up the Lake Butler estate back in 1993, when he was one year into his first contract with the NBA, and it remained his base for the next 25 years. The property itself was built in 1990, but is said to be in move-in-ready condition. The 46-year-old is now looking to live full-time in Atlanta, where he spends most of his time in his role as a basketball analyst for the TNT show Inside the NBA.
The estate, on 9926 Griffin Court in Windermere, is one of the biggest in prize and size in Orlando, and is listed with Florida's Premier Sotheby's International Realty with an asking price of US$28 million (Dh102.8m). For more information, visit TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.