Shaquille O’Neal knows marketing.
In trying to promote his new reality show “Shaq vs.” (which premiers tonight) he said that he would like to play out this final year of his contract in Cleveland, then see if returning to the Lakers is an option for next year.
Great marketing comment. Not in the least based in reality, but a great marketing comment. Already one LA television morning program talked about it today, I’m writing about it and you can bet sports talk radio will squeeze that in between Brett Favre talk today. And every time it’s mentioned his new reality show gets another free plug.
But Shaq is not coming back to the Lakers. There are as many reasons as Shaq has had nicknames though his career.
First, remember the preseason game before Shaq was traded to Miami when he ran down the court screaming at Lakers owner Jerry Buss, “Pay me! Pay me!” because he wanted a contract extension. I guarantee you that Buss does, and that he still fumes a little at that. Those comments greased the rails for Shaq’s slide out of town, and Buss does not forgive that easily.
Neither does Kobe Bryant, which brings us to issue number two: You think Kobe wants him back? Last go around Shaq was the dominant personality in the Lakers locker room, and Phil Jackson had to side with Shaq to keep the oversized child happy. Now, this is Kobe’s championship team. His locker room. He is finally out of the “can’t win without Shaq” shadow, why would he want that back?
At the All Star game last season, Shaq was saying that the feud between him and Kobe was just a game for the media, that it was all marketing. Certainly, it was good marketing. But that is far from all it was — just look at the forced smile when Kobe and Shaq had to share the All Star MVP award, and Kobe’s comments. Polite, never slams Shaq, but you could still feel the tension right below the surface.
Finally, and the biggest reason Shaq will never be a Laker again — they don’t need him. Andrew Bynum will never be Shaq circa 2000, but Andrew Bynum circa 2009 is better than Shaq circa 2009. Bynum is the Lakers starting center, he is the future face of the franchise. When he goes to the bench, Pau Gasol slides over to center. Even if Shaq were willing to come back to the Lakers for just $2 million a season — and he’s not — there still would be no place to play him. What the Lakers have in the frontcourt is not going to get better with Shaq here.
Someday, five to 10 years from now, Shaq will be standing at center court soaking in the love from Lakers fans as his jersey number is retired in the rafters at Staples Center. At that point, all will be forgiven. But right now, it is not, and Shaq is not going to be in a Lakers jersey before then.
But talking about it is good marketing.