ATLANTA — Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal sees a simple answer to the NBA’s burgeoning battle against bloopers: The league’s players and owners need to take a joke and quit whining.
The TNT commentator pushed back Thursday against the likes of Warriors star Kevin Durant and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who have both publicly questioned the use of embarrassing highlights in recent weeks.
O’Neal’s repeated use of Warriors center JaVale McGee in his popular “Shaqtin’ a Fool” segment on Inside the NBA, coupled with an exchange of insults between O’Neal and McGee on Twitter, caught Durant’s ire. The 2014 MVP said that O’Neal’s portrayal of McGee was “definitely childish” and added that O’Neal was a “s----y free throw shooter” who “missed dunks… couldn’t shoot outside the paint [and] didn’t have any skills.”
While O’Neal’s initial response was to suggest on Twitter that Durant stay in his own lane, the four-time champion couldn’t help but return fire on Thursday, a few hours before he began filming Inside The NBA.
“KD doesn’t have G–14 Classification,” O’Neal told The Crossover, referring to his oft-mentioned “unwritten” designation that applies to players who have won titles. “He can’t talk to me like that. He may think he does, and he’s sticking up for his teammate. He’s a great player, but you ain’t in the club yet. You’re on the outside in line with [Charles] Barkley, [Karl] Malone and [John] Stockton. You’re not in the club with me and those [championship] guys. That’s why I tweeted him, ‘Mind ya business.’”
The Warriors reportedly lodged a complaint to the NBA league office in the wake of the O’Neal/McGee Twitter exchange. On the advice of his mother and Inside The NBA host Ernie Johnson, O’Neal agreed to lay off McGee. However, O’Neal took exception to Durant’s statements and argued that they shouldn’t be viewed in the same light as LeBron James’s recent criticism of Charles Barkley as a “hater.”
“LeBron has a lot of clearance because he’s won championships,” O’Neal said. “But when a guy who hasn’t won championships makes comments, you say, ‘How do you know?’ … [Durant] was just trying to stick up for his teammate. If you read into what he said, none of his s--- made sense. Well, actually some of it made sense. He said I was strong and I bullied people. Of course, that’s exactly what I did. I’m not going to go shoot jumpers and do all of that.
“Just put it this way: The league is soft and these guys are sensitive, period. I was sensitive [as a player] too but I never went back at [older players]. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain never said s--- to [support] me. Did I cry about it? No. Kareem said in the paper one time, when they asked him, ‘Shaq is doing great, he has numbers similar to yours, what do you think?’ His response was, ‘Well, he hasn’t won a championship yet.’ I could have gone back at him, but I didn’t. I sucked it up like a real man and was like, ‘OK, watch this.’ A lot of guys, these days, when you say anything about them they start whimpering and crying.”
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is guilty of the same oversensitivity in O’Neal’s estimation. Last month, Cuban emailed Turner president David Levy and NBA commissioner Adam Silver to demand that Bleacher Report remove a Twitter post that included video of Dirk Nowitzki shooting an airball with the snarky tagline “Dirk Forever.” The Twitter post was eventually removed after Cuban publicly posted pictures of his email correspondence. Cuban later said that he was upset by the “disrespectful” caption and not the blooper video itself.
“I like Mark, but that was just uncalled for,” O’Neal said, noting that he was “really disappointed” that Cuban chose to make an issue out of the post. “Dirk shot an airball, Bleacher Report put ‘Dirk Forever.’ So what? They did it to Mike [Jordan], they did it to Magic [Johnson], they did it to Kareem, they did it to me.
“Nobody is exempt from bloopers. I don’t care how good you are. Nobody. Dirk is a legend, but he’s not a legend enough where we can’t show his mistakes. You heard it here first.”
The blooper issue is complicated somewhat by the fact that both TNT and Bleacher Report are Turner properties, making them official business partners of the NBA. Whether so-called “friendly fire” is in the league’s best interests has been a topic of discussion this season. NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum sent out a reminder email last month stating that official team accounts are “prohibited from mocking and/or ridiculing opponents and game officials” on social media. Tatum’s email noted that such comments can “damage the reputation of the NBA, its teams and its players.”
But in O’Neal’s view, coverage of bloopers should be sacrosanct, even for the league’s official media partners.
“I used to watch Benny Hill and Laurel and Hardy and America’s Funniest Home Videos,” he said. “Just laughing to relieve stress. I guess some guys take themselves too seriously. You can tell it’s funny because when these guys commit these acts, all you have to do is watch the bench [laughing]. It’s not me picking on people. It’s funny. Sports bloopers have been around for a long, long time. We’re going to continue to do it no matter who cries.”
A few hours after delivering his passionate defense, O’Neal, Barkley, Kenny Smith and Johnson were guffawing over his latest round of “Shaqtin’ a Fool” clips, which featured Lance Stephenson face-planting, Seth Curry spinning to the ground, and the Suns’ Gorilla mascot diving headfirst onto the court during live game action.