SACRAMENTO, Calif. – His former Lakers teammate can’t help but wonder.
“I would have thought he lost a bet,” Rick Fox said.
His former Lakers coach can’t help but smile.
“Yeah, that’s pretty funny,” Kurt Rambis said.
There is a picture of Shaquille O’Neal in a Kings baseball cap, inside the Kings practice facility, on the September day he was introduced as part-owner of the Kings (long before people in Sacramento caught on to his infiltration as a double agent). The shot was taken in this world and not, NBA.com has confirmed, some alternate universe, some place of cruel, sick jokes, some bizzaro world where up is down and a hated ex-Laker would become a beloved figure receiving loud ovations in Sleep Train Arena.
Some of the most prominent members of the Laker teams that once rumbled with the Kings, taunted the Kings and performed open-heart surgery on the Kings barehanded and without anesthesia while turning playoff matchups into a cauldron, especially the 2002 Western Conference finals, can’t help but grin. Of all people. Of all teams.
And yet, among the snickers, they offer praise. Between the playful head shakes, they show admiration.
“Back in 2002, 2003, if I saw this, I would have thought there was a joke coming right behind it,” Fox said. “But good for him. How many former players are owners, right? I’m sure he could have, with his network, plugged into a couple other owners and gone a couple other places.”
Said Derek Fisher, another former teammate: “I don’t know about this team, but Shaq’s always been pretty savvy about business opportunities. I was happy for him business wise. But it’s still noteworthy…. In true Shaq form, he’s right away giving it that Shaqramento title and everything. He’s all in.”
With a very small stake – between two and four percent, according to Forbes – but, yes, O’Neal has been prominent locally in the marketing of the new era amid the sale to new majority owner Vivek Ranadive and plans for a downtown arena. He has been at games and done the goofy-Shaq thing on scoreboard videos. And tonight, he is scheduled to attend when the Lakers make their first visit of the season, and the first visit of the O’Neal ownership era, to Sleep Train Arena.
“Strategically, when you think about his relationship with the organization as a player, it ends up, to me, making complete sense that he would go in that direction,” Fox said. “He’s done nothing in his career but endear himself to everyone. His ability to do that, probably this would be one of the remaining cities that would look at him and go, ‘No, we’re not going to jump on the Shaq bandwagon.’ But there he goes. He’s now completely conquered California.”