Kings embrace Shaquille O'Neal
The "Shaqramento" Kings era has begun.
New Sacramento Kings part owner Shaquille O'Neal and majority owner Vivek Ranadive appeared on ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Tuesday to discuss the former Lakers great's role with the team.
O'Neal has been consulting with the Kings since the summer, when Ranadive asked him to mentor young big man DeMarcus Cousins.
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"We're creating the next-generation franchise here, the first franchise of the 21st century," Ranadive said.
He said O'Neal came up with the Shaqramento nickname, one of many he has had over the years.
"That was Shaq, that was all Shaq," Ranadive said. "He's a poet. He's a great poet."
Ranadive said he had O'Neal over to his home for a day and was impressed with his knowledge on a variety of topics. He gave the owner's daughter dating advice and helped his son with social media, all the while talking basketball with Ranadive.
It is a strange turn for O'Neal, who famously labeled his Lakers' rivals the "Sacramento Queens" after a tense seven-game Western Conference finals in 2002. O'Neal was a menace to the Kings and their great teams of that era, blocking them from reaching the NBA Finals and creating extreme animosity with the Sacramento fan base.
"I was just trying to market the game, bring attention to the game," O'Neal said. "It was nothing personal."
He added: "We were scared of, not really the Sacramento Kings, but scared of the environment. ... It was a tough place to play. We want to bring that energy and bring that excitement back."
Both men said the Kings plan to build around Cousins, a 23-year-old center whose success on the court has been tempered by fouls and suspensions.
"Believe it or not, we're similar players," O'Neal said. "But I was an extrovert as a player and he's more an introvert. … Me working with him, it's not about moves, repetitions of moves, it's more about conversations."
O'Neal said he wants to help Cousins become a leader, just as former Lakers coach Phil Jackson helped him become the anchor of Lakers' title teams.
O'Neal has a long business and personal relationship with 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, who is another of Ranadive's partners, and Mastrov arranged the introduction between the future Hall of Fame center and Ranadive. The Kings declined to say how much of a stake O'Neal bought in the team.
The Kings are experiencing a makeover after Ranadive purchased the team for more than $530 million in May following a battle with a group that wanted to move the franchise to Seattle. Ranadive has hired Pete D'Alessandro as general manager and Mike Malone as coach, and he recently added Hall of Famer Chris Mullin as an adviser.
The Kings haven't made the playoffs in seven seasons and were almost moved to Seattle before Ranadive's group bought the team. Ranadive said that ticket sales are up, sponsorships are increasing and a new arena is in the works.
"We're going to be the first cashless arena," O'Neal said. "Come in with your phone, you know where your seats are, you know where the bathrooms are, the best concessions. … We're going to have the best arena in the world."