The Big Microphone is joining Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith on TNT's Inside the NBA.
Shaquille O'Neal, the future Hall-of-Fame center with nearly as many nicknames as career points, has joined Turner Sports as an NBA analyst. He becomes a permanent member of the studio show hosted by Ernie Johnson, and will be part of the network's playoff and All-Star weekend coverage. He will also occasionally appear on NBA TV and provide content for NBA.com as part of a multi-year deal. The fourth chair on Inside The NBA had been filled last year by Chris Webber (who will remain with NBA TV and occasionally appear on TNT) and Kevin McHale (now coaching the Rockets).(Turner Sports is in partnership with SI.com and runs the site's business operations.)
GALLERY: Rare photos of ShaqNews of O'Neal signing in principle with Turner was first reported by CNBC's Darren Rovell via Twitter last week. The official announcement will come later today.
How will Shaq adjust to his new occupation? O'Neal is an outgoing, charming figure but not nearly as candid or open as Barkley was as a player. The jury is out on whether those skills will translate to a star analyst.
"Shaq is smart and funny, but I can't see him matching the absurd, scattered brilliance of Barkley in that milieu," said Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum, who wrote Shaq Attaq! with O'Neal in 1994. "Shaq is a performance artist, as evidenced by his living statue bit in Boston. That's when he's at his best. Also, I'm not sure Shaq will want to devote his time and energy toward it since he always has so much going on. But I wish him well because the game can't have enough people who look at things from a sometimes skewed perspective."
Like most ex-athletes and coaches, O'Neal will have to work to become a good broadcaster. Often the toughest challenge for former athletes and coaches is criticism of former teammates and coaches. What makes the Turner situation a potentially good fit for O'Neal is Inside the NBA already has a natural flow, and longtime stars in Barkley and Smith. O'Neal will not have to be the dominant figure on set; he just needs to be interesting.
O'Neal has previously starred in movies (Blue Chips), reality TV shows (Shaq Vs.) and memorable viral videos, and his agreement with Turner includes a development deal with its entertainment and animation networks.
That O'Neal ultimately opted for Turner over ESPN is not surprising. For starters, Turner's NBA studios are based in Atlanta (which is closer to O'Neal's Orlando home) and the once-a-week-schedule is commentator friendly. As is the case with most of ESPN's talents, O'Neal would have been expected to appear across its platforms, from SportsCenter to ESPN Radio to NBA studio shows.