Four-time NBA champion and 2000 NBA MVP Shaquille O’Neal has sent out a cryptic message reiterating his wish to invest in an NBA team, after rebuffing reports earlier this month that he wanted to buy the Phoenix Suns.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to say,” the eight-time All-NBA First Teamer said while raising his eyebrows when asked about his interest by CNN’s Becky Anderson on Sunday. “It’d probably be disrespectful to say it, but I would like to go back home. I’ll leave that to the viewers to figure out [what it means]. I would like to go back home.”
Home could be any number of places for O’Neal; he played at a high school in San Antonio, Texas, where the Spurs play; his college days were spent at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, neighbors to the Pelicans of New Orleans; his first professional contract was in Orlando, where the Magic play; and in Los Angeles, he won a famous three-peat with the Lakers alongside fellow NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
O’Neal was in Abu Dhabi for the highly anticipated preseason NBA games between the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks – the first time the world’s biggest basketball league has played games in the Gulf. The Atlanta Hawks won both games at the packed 18,000 seat Etihad Arena.
“It’s historic… it’s incredible and I’m going to do my job to let the world know about this, this wonderful place,” said O’Neal, who confirmed he was even considering buying property in the UAE capital after his visit to the country. “It’s what I would call damn near perfection. Uh, beaches, the people are very hospitable, the real estate and the fact that the place is only 50 years old and growing.”
The NBA’s new multi-year partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) aims to promote and develop the sport in a region where its popularity is already high. Much of the sport’s appeal in the UAE comes from the over half a million Filipinos – basketball being the favorite sport of the Philippines – living in the country.
The upcoming 2022/23 season is the first since 2019 that NBA games are being played abroad, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Another player who’s been vocal about owning an NBA franchise is Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James, who told NBA commissioner Adam Silver that he wants to bring a team to Las Vegas. James is quickly closing down on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record, something which O’Neal said he is “jealous” of his old Cleveland Cavaliers teammate.
“LeBron – and his team – has done a fabulous job. He’s a great businessman,” O’Neal told CNN. “[I’m] jealous of LeBron in this sense. He’s about to do something that hasn’t been done in 20, 30 years. That’s a once in a lifetime accomplishment.”
While James is set to continue to seal his credentials to be on basketball’s Mount Rushmore, O’Neal’s resume is nothing to sneer at. The former Laker is a four-time NBA champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP, 15-time NBA All-Star and was a member of the NBA’s Top 50 and 75 players to commemorate its 50th and 75th anniversaries.
O’Neal credits part of his success on the court to his parents, who he says kept him humble growing up, while instilling in him a love for the game.
“I pull up to Madison Square Garden, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this place is real,’ right? And then you go in and you smell popcorn and you smell pretzels and your dad gets you a pretzel and a soda and we’re walking to the seats… I used to be a kid that loved to watch the game,” he recalled with Anderson . “My mother keeps me in check. One time I was arrogant, my mother said, ‘Who are you?’ and it made a lot of sense.”
The 2022/23 season will tip-off with a doubleheader on October 18 when the Boston Celtics take on the Philadelphia 76ers before the defending champion Golden State Warriors battle it out with James’ Lakers.