This opinion may come as a surprise, since Shaquille O’Neal operates in the same societal bubble that has shielded Charles Barkley from criticism for the past umpteen years: Shaq can be quite a dirtbag.
You want loyalty? Look somewhere else. No person — be it a teammate, coach or front office executive — is safe from the boulders Shaq hurls after he leaves a franchise. In his newest book, Shaq revisited his age-old feud with Kobe Bryant, implied that Rajon Rondo carries a level of mental weakness, fired shots at former coach Pat Riley, re-visited a dust-up with Glen Davis during which Shaq called Davis a selfish player, labeled Mike Brown a pushover who wouldn’t stand up to Lebron James, and more or less called James a coddled superstar whose every wish has been granted.
It’s not that Shaq’s criticisms carry no weight: he’s not the only teammate to have issues with Kobe; something strange and destructive definitely happened to Rondo after Perkins was traded and Obama called Rondo’s jumper suspect; Riley hasn’t been a likable figure at least since ousting head coach Stan Van Gundy for no apparent reason — probably more accurately, he hasn’t ever been a likable figure; Davis hasn’t ever met a shot he didn’t like; and Mike Brown isn’t the first person to bend over backwards trying to please James, who sure as hell seems like a pampered baby. Rather, it’s the fact that Shaq exhibits no conscience about tossing his former colleagues under the wheels of a moving 18-wheeler.
You want altruistic motives? Don’t rely on Shaq. The Big Diesel made more than $292 million during his 19-year NBA career, who-knows-how-many-more in endorsements and more cash than I could ever dream of as a (miserable) actor. He owns a number of businesses outside the NBA and now has a cushy job as a basketball analyst for Turner Sports, which probably pays him millions more. All together, he’s probably earned close to half a billion dollars, and that figure might be an underestimation. Yet Shaq shows no qualms about lobbing harsh grenades at former teammates or coaches just to sell a few copies of his new book, co-written by Jackie MacMullan. Hell, he’d probably have no problem selling his teammates out even if he wasn’t trying to sell a book.
For years, Shaq has been able to do or say whatever he wanted to because he’s tall, talented, charismatic and funny. Because of the way Shaq engages the media, we never fretted about the demeaning parting shots he directed at Chris Quinn, even though Shaq criticizing Quinn on the way out of Miami was the equivalent of a soldier with an AK-47 shooting down an unarmed civilian (on an admittedly very different scale). Most of us probably took Shaq’s side when he fought Kobe. Why wouldn’t we? Kobe’s an ornery prick and Shaq smiles a lot. We pretend not to notice when a number of increasingly strange lawsuits allege that Shaq did some rather awful things, partially because the allegations are outrageous, but partially because we can’t envision this gentle giant — the same dude who conducted the Boston Pops and sang with the public at the bar Cheers — breaking the law. If Lebron said any comments remotely close to Shaq’s worst sound bites, the world would tape a picture of King James’s head to the wall and take turns throwing darts at it. But no, not Shaq, we can’t criticize him. He once posed as a statue and let random fans sit on his lap.
Many members of the media are too afraid or unwilling to point out Shaq’s long history of fickle (or more accurately, non-existent) loyalty. Not me. Not after Shaq used his book to spray a chamber of bullets in his wake, bullets fired at many of the teammates and coaches who helped Shaq to his illustrious career. I spent the season admiring the enthusiasm Shaq brought to Boston when healthy, the way he seemingly freed Kevin Garnett to enjoy basketball more than ever, the way he joked with teammates and kept the locker room loose and genuinely seemed willing to adapt to a lesser role. But now, I understand more than ever that Shaq’s team attitude was surface-deep.
I grew up cherishing the beloved institution of team camaraderie, believing that every difference between teammates should be kept private and resolved as quickly as possible. Shaq has spent his career taking that institution and spitting on it, and this book is just the latest proof.