Q&A with NBA great Shaquille O'Neal on his future, the New Orleans Hornets, LSU
Published: Sunday, September 05, 2010, 8:52 AM Updated: Sunday, September 05, 2010, 3:36 PM
John Reid, The Times Picayune John Reid, The Times Picayune
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Former LSU All-American Shaquille OíNeal is one of the most engaging personalities in the NBA. Heís funny, controversial and is nearing retirement after 18 seasons in the league. This summer OíNeal signed a two-year contract with the Boston Celtics, his fourth team since 2008. OíNeal, who has is seeking his fifth NBA championship, sat down with the Times Picayune reporter John Reid to discuss his future, his dislikes and whether there will be a lockout next season. He also offered his opinion on Chris Paul, the Hornets, Heat President Pat Riley, LSU football coach Les Miles and former Cleveland teammate LeBron James.
Shaquille O'Neal CHAMPS/Life Skills golf tournamentBrett Duke/The Times-PicayuneShaquille O'Neal talks with Times-Picayune sports reporter John Reid about a variety of topics Friday, including his future, the Hornets and his legacy.
Will you retire after your two-year contract ends with the Boston Celtics?
Itís going to be my last two years. I look at a lot of retired players, and when they shut it down they want to come back. But Iíve been in it for 18 years now, and Iíve had a great, illustrious career.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I never had an inconsistent year, and Iíve always been dominant. Iím the No. 5 all-time scorer ó 2,000 points behind Wilt Chamberlain. Once I pass him up, I want the title as the most dominant to ever play the game. When Iím done, it would be nice to say that I passed up Chamberlain, earned five rings, and finished in the (top) 10 all-time in blocks and rebounds. Hopefully all of that will put me on the first ballot for the Hall of Fame.
As a free agent this summer, what were all the factors you considered before deciding to sign with the Celtics?
Atlanta was cool, but they donít have a lot of national television games. But Boston, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, I said we can do it. A lot of people said I only got the league minimum salary, but thatís all right. Iím the luckiest guy in the world. Iíve had four max contracts in one lifetime, I donít care about that little million. Did I want $10 million? Iím always going to put the number high. I could have gotten $8 million from Atlanta and Detroit, but it wasnít about that. It was about being somewhere and being seen and winning.
Did you really have an interest in joining the Hornets?
I did, but a lot of people say they want to win. There are only a few owners stepping up. Micky Arison stepped with the Miami Heat. Mark Cuban always steps up for the Mavericks. A lot of people want to pay, but if you look at their books nobody wants to go over the luxury tax.
What did you think of Chris Paul saying this summer if the Hornets are not serious about winning, he would be open to a trade?
Chris did the right thing this summer, saying he wants to win, and he wants out of there if they cannot get him some help. It starts to be pressuring when youíre doing all you can and donít win. When I was in Orlando, I said they had to get me somebody else. The Hornets made some moves, but theyíve got to do more. Chris is a great team player and leader. He just needs help.
Did you think LeBron James handled his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers the right way?
He is a friend of mine, so I canít comment on how he runs his business. A lot of people thought what he did was cool. A lot of people said the way he did it wasnít cool. Maybe he already knew what he was going to do, nobody really knows, because heís not really talking. Hey, I wish him well.
Are you disappointed you and the Cavaliers did not meet the objective of winning a championship?
It was very disappointing. I would rather for people to say we just didnít win. LeBron James did a good job of leading the team, and it showed. We won 62 games, but Boston just had it.
What sort of joy do you get from the ďShaq Vs.Ē reality show, which has you challenging stars from other sports?
Gallery previewItís fun being a couch guy that talks trash. Iím one of those guys. When I see a guy running 60 meters in 10 seconds, I say give me a 20-meter head start and Iíll beat him. Itís just me going up against other greats at what they do. I like it.
Could you talk about your relationship with former LSU coach Dale Brown?
He has helped me out throughout my entire NBA career. He has been someone that I have respected and been like a father. Dale Brown is my guy.
Do you think there is going to be a lockout in the NBA next season?
I donít want to answer that. But people had better be saving their money, because if you look at business and how the market is, the owners might come back and say things different. On the other hand, youíve got to look at the general managers and say, íhow can you pay this guy $20 million a year and heís averaging only six points a game.
Once you are done with basketball, do you plan to enter law enforcement full-time?
Iím either going to be the sheriff in Baton Rouge, Miami or Los Angeles. One of those counties is going to have to welcome me in.
You are a big LSU football fan. What do you think of Coach Les Miles?
Love Les, but Iím kind of upset they ranked us No. 21, and Miami had the same record last season and they are ranked No. 9.
Do you still consider yourself one of the best players in the game?
Everyone always wants the title as the best player in the game. I own my title, and I still own it to this day. A lot of people want to take shots now, but Iím 38. But the only person in the league that slowed me down was a brother named father time, and thatís life, it slows everybody down. But no big man is ever going to do what I and Tim Duncan have done in our careers. It was time for 10 consecutive years that either me or Tim was in the NBA Finals. It was broken two years, but there will never be another big guy to do that.
You appear to be approachable to fans, showing no reluctance to sign autographs or pose for pictures. Do you think professional athletes should make that an obligation?
They always say that however you are, if you stay that way, good things will happen to you. So I can remember times like scoring 40 against great teams and then walking through the quad at LSU and seeing a million students. Iíve always been a class clown and a people person. Just because I make a hell of a lot more money than most people, that really doesnít make me better. Iíve always considered myself a lucky guy and humble. I think thatís why the Shaquille OíNeal brand has done so well. Other so-called brands donít do as well, because some of these guys are very Hollywood, especially some of the young guys that have entered the league. I donít want to see names, but they just donít do it right. Iím sure when I came in, Michael Jordan and them were saying the same thing about me.
Who is OíNeal?
I think people look at me as a real model, not a role model. I donít play a role. What you see is what you get. Iíve got tattoos, Iím educated, and I like loud music. But those that create their image, it always catches up with them. The ones that act perfect, but when that reality kicks in, they canít come back from that.
Are you surprised that you have played for four different franchises since 2008?
No, but I made the comments in Boston that when I was the CEO, things would have to go my way. The one thing I donít tolerate is BS. You cannot BS me and Iím not a boy. Iíve been here a long time, and I understand the business. You always have to look at a bigger part of it. Like in Phoenix, the guy (Suns owner Robert Sarver) was out of money, and Iím the big salary. So what do you do? You get rid of the big salary. It wasnít because he didnít like me. It was the same thing in Miami, me and Pat (Riley) didnít get along, so what do you do? But nothing goes down without my OK. Like when I was in L.A., I said Iíll go, but Iím going to Miami. They were saying we want to send you to Utah, and I said, íGuess what, Iím not doing it.í I told them they would have to settle out and write me a check, and then Iíll go, but they said íall right, weíll send you to Miami.í In Miami, I told them I want to go to Phoenix.
While with the Miami Heat, you appeared to have a strained relationship with former Heat coach Pat Riley. What happened?
I wasnít with the five-hour practices. Some people have different mentalities, but I was just coming off three out of four (NBA Finals MVP awards). With the Lakers, Phil (Jackson) treated us like men with 1 Ĺ -hour practices. Iím a businessman, and I donít know how other men view me personally, nor do I care. I know what I do and what I have to do.
How do you stay focused despite going through emotional changes like your divorce from your wife, Shaunie.
Marriage is a tough thing, and I didnít know how tough it was. My mother told me as soon as you get married, itís not about you anymore, itís about the children. As long as all of my children are fine, Iím happy.