Nobody wants a bitter Shaq
There are three kinds of people in the NBA world.
Team Shaq, Team Kobe and Team I Don't Give A Damn About Either Of Them.
The last group has the funnier title but also the fewest members.
Considering how difficult it was for those two to share the Lakers' locker room, it's close to impossible to put them both in the same category in terms of how basketball fans feel about them. If you didn't choose a side during the rocky marriage, almost certainly one was chosen by the time of the divorce.
Like most people who are Team Shaq, I signed up in July 2003, shortly after Kobe was arrested. The rape accusation was tough enough. Hearing a year later that Kobe had told detectives "he should have done what Shaq does ... that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything" and already had paid up to $1 million "for situations like this" -- well, that just made it tougher for me to move on, and I'm just a fan.
I can understand why Shaq has had an even harder time despite being one ring, four teams and eight years removed from the Lakers and Kobe.
But at some point, he has to let the bitterness go, otherwise it's going to destroy his name far worse than Kobe's allegation did.
Yes, he had to address the feud in his new book "Shaq Uncut: My Story" because it was a defining moment in his career and it would be odd if that portion wasn't there. Yes, that's the part the media will gravitate toward because people love gossip. Sportswriters may call it different things by identifying it with the daily ebb and flow of a sports franchise and its stars -- "trade rumors," "a distraction" -- but at the end of the day, it's just folks talking about other folks' business; it's gossip.
However, this specific personal grievance is no longer juicy.
It's dried up.
The two of them have dragged NBA fans up and down this road so many times there's a trench.
So while it had to be put in the pages, Shaq should avoid trying to promote the book on the back of a horse that has long since expired.
And talking trash about LeBron James, which reportedly he also does in the book, is also a bit outdated and, honestly, beneath him.
Shaq has to remember he didn't become a fan favorite solely because of his game. People also embraced his outsized personality because they liked him.
Many of us still do, which is why we're so excited we will see him in the TNT studio when the league finally gets its act together.
But if his book tour becomes "Bitterfest," it won't help the brand he's carefully crafted, let alone usher in the sort of catharsis that is supposed to accompany an autobiography.
Shaq's life story is amazing and inspirational, filled with valuable gems.
Unlike so many professional athletes who promised to finish their education after leaving college early but failed to return, he actually did. When Shaq heard about the tragic passing of a 5-year-old girl in North Carolina, he paid for her funeral. And of all of the monikers he has taken on over the years, "Shaq-a-Claus" is probably my favorite.
The man has a big heart.
Yes, he also has a big ego. And he's been a difficult teammate at times and probably should have more rebounding titles under his belt.
But overall the guy's been everything a league could ask for in one of its stars. His renaissance man approach to celebrity arguably laid the groundwork for many of the other professional athletes who juggle reality TV shows, attempt music careers and interact with fans via social media. Kevin Durant playing flag football with a fraternity in Oklahoma City was pure Shaq.
At this point in his life, he should be able to sit down on a radio show, talk about his personal journey from rapping to movies to championship parades without having to spend the bulk of the interview trashing ex-teammates to sell books. That kind of pettiness would not only be disappointing for card-carrying members of Team Shaq, but disempowering for him.
Shaq needs but glance over at the sad sack that is Brett Favre, who looks like a hypocrite each time he offers up a backhanded compliment to his Green Bay successor, Aaron Rodgers. Or see how Jalen Rose came under fire earlier this year for expressing the bitterness he harbored toward Duke and Grant Hill in the 1990s. Also bitter: Rick Barry and Pete Rose. (Donovan McNabb's bitterness is justifiable, but his post-Eagles comments are getting a bit tiresome.)
And if Shaq needs any example about the depths to which bitterness can lead: This weekend, Jose Canceco and Lenny Dykstra will enter the ring in some sort of wacko celebrity boxing match to hammer out their differences because baseball has no place for them and they don't know what else to do with their lives. No successful athletes look good when they allow gripes and slights to latch on to their public personas.
I would say there is a grace period of about a year when a player leaves a team during which he can criticize a coach, a former teammate or a situation that did not go his way. But after that such dialogue ceases to be enlightening and just becomes complaining.
Sport fans love gossip, but we don't care too much for whining because professional athletes get paid a lot of money to play a kid's game. Athletes can't forget that because fans never do.
That's not to say the Shaqs of the world don't have real problems, only that playing alongside a selfish teammate who threw you under the bus -- while dramatic at the time -- isn't viewed as one of them eight years after the fact.
And a 39-year-old man living a pretty good life should be able to look in the rearview mirror and see that.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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