Shaquille O’Neal may be retired, but at age 39, he’s hardly twiddling his big thumbs.
He still has a brand to burnish.
Sure, his new gig as analyst on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” in Atlanta is on hold, at least until Christmas. But he’s finishing up his dissertation to receive a doctorate in psychology at Barry University in Miami. His memoir “Shaq Uncut” hit stores Nov. 15. Ane his branded “Shaq All Star Comedy Jam” tour is traveling the nation, coming to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Dec. 2.
We spoke to the legendary center last week before a Q&A and book signing at Morehouse College before the tentative agreement between the players and owners this past weekend:
Q: You’ve owned a place in Buckhead for 15 years. What made you decide to get a place here?
A: I always loved Atlanta. I’d come here and people have been so nice to me. I used to own a restaurant on Peachtree. I’ve owned other businesses, too. It’s a nice place to come to play and it’s only a six-hour drive from Orlando.
Q: In your book, you write about your early years in the NBA and how you loved to party here in Atlanta. Did you have any favorite places to go?
A; I used to go to Club 112 with Da Brat and Jermaine [Dupri.] I was just young, hanging with other celebrities.
Q: How much time do you spend here now?
A: Now that I’m with TNT, I had planned to be here once a week for “Inside the NBA.” Other than that, I try to get here once a month.
Q: Was there any realistic scenario that could have landed you here in Atlanta as a Hawk?
A: Yes, I could have. But [Hawks General Manager] Rick Sund wanted to give all that money to Joe Johnson last year.
Q: Was that a good move you think in retrospect?
A: Good move, bad move, I don’t want to talk about it. I just wish the franchise well.
Q: Are you going a little stir crazy since you can’t be hanging with Charles Barkley on “Inside the NBA”?
A: Stir crazy? A little bit. I was interested in getting up there with those guys. The NBA just has to get its business going again. The average person doesn’t get this billionaire vs. millionaire fighting. Hopefully, a deal can get done soon.
Q: What would you do if you were in charge of the players’ union?
A: If I were in charge, I would have focused on two things. I would have focused on protecting the owners from themselves. Then I’d say, “Okay, we are in a recession. That 50/50 is fine. We realize everyone has to cut down. But if we get a certain amount of revenue, that should raise us back up.”
Q: Were you surprised by the reaction to your negative comments about [then Miami Heat coach] Pat Riley in your book? [He described Riley's exercise regime as "Gestapo" and said Riley had cameras everywhere watching the players.]
A: I’m not surprised. Pat knows me. I’m marketing and selling my book. It’s a good thing for me. Every move I make is calculated. Pat’s commented about it. I don’t take it personally. It’s what happened. It’s true.
Q: You also wrote that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never gave you the time of day. What was that about?
A: I don’t know. I never really cared. I would have liked him to come to me and say, ‘Do this or do that.’ He never said anything. He did put out a response and said he didn’t know I wanted to talk to him. It’s unfortunate because Bill Russell and Dr. J went out of the way to talk to me when I was younger. But it doesn’t hurt my feelings.
Q: You mention in your book that you and your girlfriend Nikki [Alexander] might do a reality show together. Would she go for that?
A: Maybe, maybe not. I want to do something different. It’d have to be positive. I want to make people laugh but I don’t want to be part of the buffoonery.
Q: Okay. Let’s talk comedy. Who are your favorite stand-up comics?
A: Chris Tucker, Kat Williams, Mike Epps and Kevin Hart.
Q: How about favorite comedy movies?
A: Anything with Richard Pryor. And the “Rush Hour” series.
Q: Do you attend every Shaq All Star Comedy Jam show?
A: Not usually. I don’t want to take away from the guys doing the comedy. It’s their night. I don’t want to just get on stage and say good night y’all!
Q: Will you be at the Atlanta show?
A: Maybe. By the way. I hate to brag, but I own the No. 1 urban comedy brand. Especially in times of recession, people need to forget their stress.
Q: You love kids. Is it a kid-friendly show?
A: No. It’s a real show. For example, I can’t let [comic] Gary Owen not use curse words. It’s not him. People: don’t bring the kids. It’s for adults only.
Q: Now that you’ve retired, what is your nickname for yourself now?
A: How about Dr. O’Neal? I’m graduating in March with my PhD. I will only answer to doctor. Shaq will be gone forever! I might even change my accent to an English one. Makes me more distinguished!
“Shaquille O’Neal’s All Star Comedy Jam” featuring Michael Blackson, Corey Holcomb, Capone and Gary Owen.
8 p.m., Dec. 2. $$46.45 to $57.20 after fees. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 770-916-2800. www.ticketmaster.com.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk