One Stepfather’s Story – Sergeant Philip Harrison


An All-State guard in high school, James Toney, was offered a basketball scholarship to play at Seton Hall. James struggled with drug addiction. In 1973, he was jailed for drug possession when his son was still an infant. When he was released, James agreed to give up his parental visitation rights to his son’s stepfather, Philip A. Harrison, and his mother, Lucille.

At 21 years old, his stepson wrote, “When my mother needed someone 21 years ago, Philip Harrison was the man…My father joined the Army when I was two so he could make a better living and also so he could get us out of the ‘hood. I was born two years before my parents were married.” In an interview, he expressed, “Just because you bring a child into the world, it doesn’t make you a father.”

Sergeant (Sgt) Harrison watched his stepson leave the house for his first day of school. He was the one who admired his elementary school artwork on the refrigerator. Sgt Harrison was the one who disciplined his stepson. He saw his first basketball dunk. Sgt Harrison eventually moved his family to Wildlflecken (Bavaria), Germany where he was stationed as a drill instructor. Even after entering his stepson’s life, his stepson had a habit of acting out and getting into trouble.

Life for his stepson was difficult, but eventually Sgt Harrison was able to help his stepson reverse his course. While living in Germany, he continued to rebel (getting in fights, hitting teachers, breaking into cars, etc.) in hopes he would be sent back to the U.S. Sgt Harrison ended that dream telling his stepson, ” Look, son, now matter what you do, I’m not letting them send you back. And if you don’t listen to me, I’m going to beat your butt. Every…single…day.”

Sgt Harrison’s stepson went on to play basketball in college and the NBA. Here are just a few of his son’s career highlights and awards:

  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1993)
  • 4x NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002 & 2006)
  • 3x NBA Finals MVP (2000-2002)
  • NBA Most Valuable Player (2000)
  • Gold Medal Olympic Games (Atlanta 1996)

During his playing days, he went by many nicknames: Superman, The Big Cactus, The Diesel, or The Big Shamrock. Now retired from basketball, Shaquille O’Neal or Shaq is best known as one of the most dominant players in the history of the NBA. In addition to his basketball career, Shaquille O’Neal has released four rap albums, with his first going platinum. He’s also appeared in several films and starred in his own reality shows. Shaquille is currently an analyst on the television program “Inside the NBA.”

As a result of his stepfather’s influence and military background, Shaquille O’Neal has made a public service a priority in his life. His service ranges from donations to charities and organizations across the country to working as a reserve police officer in Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix. As far as his career in law enforcement, “I am not a hero. My [step]father was my hero growing up.”


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