Even in these lean, late-offseason months, the NBA news cycle finds ways to surprise. The latest bombshell: According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Shaquille O'Neal has purchased a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings -- a team he openly mocked as a player and helped bar from an appearance in the NBA Finals in 2002. From Amick's report:
His involvement will begin in earnest today, as O'Neal – who jokingly referred to himself as 'Dr. O'Neal throughout a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports – plans to meet with Kings players and coaches in Sacramento before having dinner with franchise centerpiece and his new protégé, center DeMarcus Cousins.
"What interested me in this deal is the new vision, the new Kings, the new everything," O'Neal, who so famously deemed the Kings the "Queens" at the start of the 2002-03 season, said. "I've always wanted to be part of something like this…It's going to be great."
According to SI.com's Richard Deitsch, O'Neal's ownership stake will not have any impact on his role with Turner Sports. O'Neal has been a fixture on TNT's Inside the NBA since 2011, and though team ownership would represent some conflict of interests with his role as an "analyst" -- a generous job description, in his case -- he is expected to continue in the same capacity. Such a decision is not without precedent; both Turner and Disney (parent company of ESPN and ABC) employed Magic Johnson while he owned a minority share (and, for part of that time, acted as team vice president) of the Lakers from 1994 to 2010.
Yet as far as the Kings go, this is both an unexpected addition and still very much in-character for a Kings franchise looking to brand itself anew after a long-overdue change in ownership. Even though Vivek Ranadive, Mark Mastrov, and the rest of Sacramento's ownership group have already begun to change the culture of the team through their personnel decisions and commendable efforts, the stink of the Maloofs -- who acted as majority owners of the Kings from 1999 until earlier this year -- remains. Last week, ESPN the Magazine branded the Kings as the worst franchise in professional sports, and then attempted to justify that ranking via press release. That such a pronouncement would come after a new, resilient ownership group fought an extended battle to keep the team in Sacramento was odd, to say the least, but represents the uphill battle the Kings still have in terms of cleansing their national reputation.
O'Neal doesn't accomplish that on his own, but his reputation and charisma should be of use to a team in Sacramento's position. Ranadive saw that value, and presented an opportunity for partnership (via Amick's report):
"I wanted to find somebody to add to the ownership group who truly represented 21st century basketball, who represented my vision of NBA 3.0, which is having an understanding of technology, wanting to build a global brand and being global in their thinking, and really being committed to having an impact in the community," Ranadive, the former Golden State Warriors minority owner who heads the group that bought the team for a league-record valuation of $535 million, told USA TODAY Sports. "The most iconic person on the planet was Dr. O'Neal. So Mark Mastrov is good friends with Dr. O'Neal, and Dr. O'Neal and I spent a day at my house shooting hoops, hanging out with my kids, and just talking about how to create the franchise of the 21st century.While O'Neal parlayed an all-time-great career and an expressive public persona into world renown, this characterization -- of Shaq as a business luminary -- is certainly new. That isn't to say that he's incapable of bringing something unique to the table as minority owner; O'Neal's caché could make for an interesting bridge between the Kings' business-minded goals and basketball-centric endeavors. He has the celebrity capital to play a part on both ends of Sacramento's operations, and with that brings the intangible, peripheral value that comes in having an NBA legend as part owner of the franchise. Similar arrangements (like, say, Michael Jordan's previous stake in the Wizards and now in the Bobcats) haven't always worked out for the best, but O'Neal could be a legitimate asset to the Kings so long as he's used in a sensible, restrained manner. Too much of O'Neal's influence could be overbearing. But just enough might legitimately move the needle for a franchise in a transitional state.
"We talked about what the forces were that were shaping the 21st century, we talked about technology, we talked about new companies that we were looking at, and based on that we came to a conclusion that we could – what my (late) friend Steve Jobs likes to say – put a dent in the universe if Dr. O'Neal became my partner."