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Q&A: Shaq sounds off at Rucker Park

Shaquille O'Neal stops by Rucker Park in Harlem, NY. Photo:

Shaquille O'Neal stops by Rucker Park in Harlem, NY.

Shaquille O’Neal has worn many hats in his life. He’s played memorable roles on TV and the big screen, he’s dropped multiple albums as a rapper and even assisted in the apprehension of a hate crime suspect while serving as an honorary police deputy in Miami. Not to mention a 19-year professional career that included four NBA championships, 15 All-Star nominations, three Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP award and more than 28,500 points.

Since retiring from the league in 2011, O’Neal has worked on comical television shows (that may or may not have started out as Steve Nash’s idea), taken a run at being an NBA analyst on TNT and most recently bought a slice of the Sacramento Kings’ ownership pie.

Last week, O’Neal was wearing the hat of general manager as he led a team of the top high school basketball players in the nation in the second annual Reebok Breakout Camp vs. EBC All-Star game at Rucker Park. Other coaches in attendance included Philadelphia 76ers big man Nerlens Noel and Harlem native and rap legend Cam’ron.

As O’Neal prepared for the game, he took a few minutes to talk with SI.com about the direction of the Sacramento Kings, the issues surrounding the Paul George injury and much more.

SI.com: First, let's start with the Kings. What's your opinion on the moves Sacramento made this summer?

Photo:

From the left, Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel, Shaquille O'Neal and Cam'ron.

​​​​​SHAQ: We’ve made some pretty impressive moves. It’s a work in progress. We’ve got a lot of things going on: building a new arena, building a practice facility and hotel. We just want to get it back to where it used to be and that’s gonna take time, but we three good pieces and we just want to build around those guys. [Ben] McLemore, Rudy Gay and [DeMarcus] Cousins. We’re just going to build around them.

Guys have to be committed to winning and they have to learn how to win. Right now, they can play and compete, but sometimes we don’t do what it takes to win, but that’s also a learning process.

SI.com: What does it mean for the Kings to have Rudy Gay playing for Team USA?

SHAQ: It means a lot for the Kings and it means a lot for Rudy. I like Rudy. He’s just one of those players that has been on the unfortunate side of things [in his career]. He’s not a troublemaker, salary cap issues and maybe they were paying him too much, and he might have had a bad season, but he can play. You put him on the right team and put some guys around him, you know. He can play.

SI.com: Having played for Team USA and now being part of the ownership of an NBA franchise, what's your opinion on the Paul George injury and the level of participation pro players should have in that kind of competition?

SHAQ: My opinion is that FIBA and whoever is in charge needs to follow the NBA basketball guidelines. The [hoop] was too close. It was too close. That’s probably okay for Europe because they shoot jumpers and do backdoor cuts, but guys in the NBA are real athletic and the baskets way to close.

Our basket is back 10-12 inches. They should at least emulate that, especially if [the NBA] is going to have our guys there. I’m not a doctor and I’m not an expert, but I know that if that thing wasn’t there, at worst, he would have just sprained his ankle.

Photo:

Shaquille O'Neal poses for a photo with 76ers big man Nerlens Noel.

​​​SI.com: With Paul George out for the year, LeBron back in Cleveland, and all the changes this summer in the Eastern Conference—

SHAQ: Roy Hibbert on the trading block…

SI.com: Yeah, and now Pau Gasol’s coming over from the Western Conference—

SHAQ: Oh, yeah. Pau’s coming over? (doesn’t believe me at all)

SI.com: Yeah… (don’t believe myself anymore)

SHAQ: To who? What team?

SI.com: (Terrified that I’m wrong) The Bulls

SHAQ: Oh, I didn’t know that… See, I don’t even know—

SI.com: (Time to change the subject) Yeah. So, what do you think about the Eastern Conference this year with all those changes?

SHAQ: Nobody’s beating Cleveland. Right now on paper, the Cavaliers are the frontrunner because LeBron’s the best player in the country and he has a good little piece with him. Kyrie Irving is emerging and (Kevin) Love puts up big numbers and all three of those guys aren’t selfish. And LeBron was already going on record saying he doesn’t mind averaging 16 [points per game] to get these guys involved, and we all know he has that ability. Then [Anderson] Varejao gets you like 14, 15 rebounds a game. So I don’t see anybody beating Cleveland.

SI.com: It’s a tough spot to be in, but if you were the GM of the Cavaliers, would you have traded away No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love?

SHAQ: Yeah, of course.

SI.com: Right away? Just to get that much closer to winning an NBA championship faster?

Photo:

Shaquille O'Neal on the sidelines at Rucker Park.

​​​​SHAQ: Right away … He was great in college and all that, but we don’t know how he’s going to be as a pro. If he gets [to Minnesota] and he’s superb, it’ll be a mistake, but you never know with these [No. 1] picks. Cleveland’s first pick last didn’t do anything, did he?

SI.com: (I nod in agreement, like I’d ever disagree with a man his size)

SHAQ: When you got a veteran guy like Love that’s already [putting up] 26-12, you got to. All day everyday buddy.

SI.com: Okay. Now you’re one of the last true big men, and since you’ve left the league the landscape has changed a lot. There’s a lot more versatile—

SHAQ: That’s my fault. It’s my fault because I used to punish them so much when they’d come down into that paint.

SI.com: Well, now the 76ers seem like one of the few teams that are looking to build their franchise around big men through the draft—

SHAQ: Yeah, but, there’s two types of big men. There’s the Dirk Nowitzki big man and there’s the real physical big man, which is good. That’s not a knock on Dirk Nowitzki, he’s one of the top players in the game. That’s just how he plays. But me personally, I don’t like seven footers shooting three-pointers.

SI.com: So do you think centers like you are extinct in the league?

SHAQ: Oh, they’re gone. I killed them off.

SI.com: Okay, now being that we’re here in Rucker Park. What are some of your most fond memories of playing here?

SHAQ: Well seeing one of my dear friends over there Future tear it up… I just like to come and see who’s hot up in New York and who’s playing and having a good time. This out here is fun basketball. This atmosphere is similar to any hostile NBA arena. If you don’t bring you’re A-game to New York, you ain’t ready. 

SI.com: Now, with Reebok sponsoring the tournament, there’s a new floor and it just seems like there’s a lot more buzz around the game today. What are your impressions of how far the Rucker Park tournament has come?

SHAQ: Rucker Park basketball is very entertaining, and it’s lovely for the kids to watch. Growing up, I always wanted to come up here and make a name for myself, and I never got the chance, but a lot of people have came through here and done well and they’ve been good ever since guys like Dr. J.

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