Shaquille O’Neal is officially listed at 7’1”, 315 lbs.(Beefy!). But he brings with him a much bigger personality. Shaq has made a career out of not only thundering dunks but bombastic comments. Prolific nicknames, battle raps, and your run of the mill trash talk from O’Neal has filled column inches (and blog posts) for 15 years.
But even though O’Neal has often said things that seemed unnecessary and later made him look the fool in retrospect, he’s still managed to have a long, dominant, and successful career not only on the floor but off it. He’s appeared in movies, commercials, television, the works. He’s instantly recognizable, and has made it known he wants to be involved in business when his playing days are over.
Which is why his interview with the Orlando Sentinel today is of note. He spoke with Shannon Owens and basically admitted that all the rivalries he’s fostered were simply, “marketing.” Specifically he noted that “I know what I’m doing when it comes to selling out games.”
What we should take from this has nothing to do with Kobe Bryant nor how certain body parts of his taste. It does have to do with his self-awareness, and that has to do with his role on the Celtics.
A lot of players that run their mouth do so because they don’t know better. This is why they are so often termed “knuckleheads.” But Shaq does know better. He’s an intelligent guy that understands not only how the game works, but the big picture. His ability to manipulate the press for his own gain and still walk away immensely popular is evidence of this, as is his career which doesn’t posses any gigantic in-game gaffes.
It’s this self-awareness that will prevent him from those blow-ups which many might be anticipating. He has consistently maintained that he is an impact player, and certainly his ego is considerable, but he’s also talked about history and how all players eventually become role players. That self-awareness will help keep him quiet if he gets only five touches and the Celtics lose. He’ll likely still give the reporters what they need for headlines, but he has perspective.
This isn’t to say that O’Neal’s bombast hasn’t submarined teams before. The Heat saw a bad situation get worse when he lost interest as they started losing. The Suns had great chemistry until he decided to start mouthing off, and you saw the bounce back last year. And of course, there’s that whole matter of the Lakers and a dynasty that got shredded as he unraveled with Kobe.
But those were all when O’Neal wasn’t facing the now inescapable reality of his age, and when he wasn’t watching the ending of his own career. Now that he’s reached that point, his talk of not disrupting the locker room and understanding his role may be more than just pillow talk.
It’ll just be extremely loud talk.