The scene at the Sacramento Kings practice facility this afternoon looked more like an Apple Store during the release of a new iPhone rather than press conference today. Media members from every imaginable outlet showed up to see future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal take the podium. Lots of media friends were in attendance, but also plenty of folks we’ve never seen before at a Kings function. And that is the point of bringing in Shaq, isn’t it?
The Kings have hit the big-time and Shaq is the largest new piece to an ever-growing pie.
The big fella was gracious and funny. He called himself a “marketing expert”, joked about his mega-flop film Kazaam and asked that the capitol of California be renamed “Shaqramento”. But he was also humble and strangely apologetic to a fan base that he took countless shots at during the heated Lakers/Kings rivalry of the early 2000′s.
“I understand their passion and a lot of people took this [his past comments regarding Sacramento] personal,” O’Neal said. “If I offended anyone, then I apologize.”
O’Neal seems genuinely excited to be a member of the team he used to call the “Queens”. He has a long standing friendship and business relationship with Mark Mastrov from their 24 Hour Fitness days in Miami. According to Shaq, he reached out to Mastrov this summer once the deal to keep the Kings in Sacramento was in place. That phone call led to a face-to-face meeting with Vivek Ranadivé and the rest is history.
There were a few random questions thrown at O’Neal, but the central theme of the day was how he fits into the new Kings picture. While he doesn’t plan on teaching DeMarcus Cousins any new post moves, it is clear that the four-time NBA champion wants to mentor the Kings brightest young star.
“When I look at DeMarcus Cousins, I see a young Shaquille O’Neal,” Shaq said. “He’s very talented, very stubborn in his ways and likes to do things his way.”
O’Neal cited NBA legend Phil Jackson as the reason for his turnaround and hopes to impart some of that knowledge to Cousins. The conversation began last night, when the two joined other members of the ownership group, as well as Governor Jerry Brown and his wife for dinner in downtown Sacramento.
There are a lot of Kings fans who aren’t exactly excited about the latest addition to the team, but sometimes it’s best to let the past stay in the past. As a member of the TNT broadcasting team, both O’Neal and Charles Barkley were vocal against relocating the team to Seattle.
“It would have been a travesty not to have a team here,” O’Neal said. “Especially with all of the things I’ve went through in this town. It would have been a travesty.”
O’Neal promised to be a fixture around Sacramento and even dropped a few team and arena related tidbits that were being kept under wraps. We have been hearing rumors about technological advances that will go into the new arena, but according to Shaq, the building will be “cashless”, running solely on phone apps for tickets and other purchases. He also mentioned that the Kings opening game, which will be televised uninterrupted on News 10, will also be shown live in India.
It was another big day for an ownership group that has a lot of positive momentum going right now. With training camp starting next week, the conversation is about to shift to the product on the floor. Hopefully the momentum will carry over to that aspect of the franchise as well.
WATCH: Shaq apologizes for his “Sacramento Queens diss”