Basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal, one of the richest athletes in the world, works as a cop in his spare time — and he recently nabbed a suspected rapist!

“I grabbed him with one hand by the scruff of his neck,” the 7-foot-1, 310-pound Los Angeles Laker told a reporter. “There was no way he could get away. And you know what — he didn’t even recognize me!”

That’s not surprising — who would expect the reigning king of the NBA to be working as beat cop for the Port of Los Angeles Police?

Shaq has $249 million in lifetime contracts plus hundreds of millions in product endorsements. Yet his ambition is to be a cop — a county sheriff, a town police chief, may-be a police commissioner — when his basketball career is over.

“I just have a love for policemen because they’ve always been the real heroes in my life,” he said. “I would like to have a leadership role.”

Shaq’s father Philip Harrison was a career soldier and strict disciplinarian. His uncle and business manager Mike Parris is a former homicide detective in New Jersey.

“Coming from a military family, I believe that whatever is written should be enforced,” Shaq said.

O’Neal has completed 400 hours of instruction with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s reserve training program, allowing him to wear a uniform and act as a reserve officer with the port police.

“He’s a tremendous learner and a fine human being,” said Lieut. Ron Dayhoff, one of his teachers. “He’s humble, polite and eager to learn everything about police work.

“He’s not about making money from police work — he genuinely wants to help people.”

As a reserve officer Shaq has a $200 police uniform, custom-fitted, and size 22EEE policeman’s boots.

He was on patrol recently when his unit was dispatched to answer a rape call.

“The rape victim told us she had been raped by a guy who told her he was a movie producer and lured her to his apartment,” Shaq told a source.

“Then he raped her. She managed to escape later and gave us the address of the apartment where the rape took place. We busted through the door of the apartment, but it was empty.

“Then, glancing out the window, I saw a guy answering the rapist’s description peering nervously out another apartment window. “I told the sergeant, ‘There’s your man up there.’

“I told them, ‘I’ll go out back and wait in the alley near the window while you guys go in the door. If he jumps out the window and runs, I’ll be waiting.’

“Sure enough, the guy jumped and started running real fast. I caught him as he passed — grabbing him one-handed by the scruff of his neck. I jerked him to a stop. He couldn’t get away!”

Shaq is also an honorary deputy with the sheriff’s department in Orange County, Fla., where he has a home.

“I’ve seen him several times on patrol,” said spokesman Jim Solomons. “He’s a great cop and we’re proud to have him work with us.”