Vivek Ranadive became a hero in Sacramento by purchasing the Kings and helping the franchise survive a relocation bid by Seattle. Now Ranadive is adding an NBA hero to his ownership group. The Kings announced that Shaquille O'Neal is becoming a minority owner of the team.
"What interested me in this deal is the new vision, the new Kings, the new everything," said O'Neal, who so famously deemed the Kings the "Queens" at the start of the 2002-03 season. "I've always wanted to be part of something like this. ... It's going to be great."
Ranadive and the Kings recently responded to ESPN's recent ranking of the team as the worst franchise among 122 NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL teams.
"Hey ESPN ... Nice Airball," one of the promotional posters for a Nov. 15 home game that will be aired by ESPN reads. "New era. New swagger. The best fans await you."
Regarding the unflattering attention, Ranadive told USA TODAY Sports: "We are No. 1 in new ticket sales; we're probably No. 1 in sponsorships. We have a whole list of No. 1s we can tell you about. We've sold more tickets than all of the other teams, so that speaks for itself. ... They did their study based on last year, and who wants to read yesterday's newspaper?"
O'Neal matched Ranadive's aggressive approach to the franchise's new direction.
"Worst is at the bottom, which means you can't get no worser," O'Neal said of the Kings' ranking. "There's no such thing as worser, which means we can only get better. And we will get better. Once that new arena comes, once that new downtown is up, once we have a conversation with the players and get everybody to step up, they'll be knocking on the door.
"Hopefully Vivek, with Mr. Mastrov and myself and the team and organization can get it back to where it used to be. I'm telling you these new plans, oh my. You're going to be like, 'Sacramento is doing what?' That's what we want people to say."
O'Neal's energy could be an asset for a team that has fallen on hard times in the standings. The Kings have failed to earn a postseason bid in seven seasons. O'Neal not only will play a role in marketing the team, but may wield some influence over often-troubled franchise center DeMarcus Cousins.
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 new protégé DeMarcus Cousins.