It was one of the most exciting playoff series of all time. Until last years’ Finals, nothing that had followed it lived up to its greatness. It had some of the NBA Playoffs’ most dominant performances; one of the most memorable comebacks of all time which was capped by one of the most iconic game winners in NBA history; a controversy that alludes to a conspiracy that serves as one of the NBA’s biggest blemishes; all wrapped in a seven-game series in which every one of the final four games came down to the wire. Going into the following season — the Los Angeles Lakers returning as champions — Shaquille O’Neal was asked of he was concerned about another matchup with Sacramento in the future. His response: “I’m not worried about facing the Sacramento Queens.”
But nearly 10 years since making that comment, after a day of talking basketball, business and Twitter with Sacramento Kings‘ owner Vivek Ranadive, Shaq is now a partial owner of his once bitter rival. The town that hosts the team he once called “Queens” has been dubbed Shaqramento and only God and Shaq know what will become of his new position. When asked about the “Queens” comment Shaq stated that it was “nothing personal.” He simply wanted to “bring attention to the game.. He added:
“We were scared of, not really the Sacramento Kings, but scared of the environment. … It was a tough place to play.” (ESPN)
That environment is exactly what Shaq and Ranadive hope to revive in Sacramento. With a new arena on the way the team is looking to become “the franchise of the 21st century.” On why Shaq was the best fit, Ranadive explained:
“I wanted to find somebody to add to the ownership group who truly represented 21st century basketball, who represented my vision of NBA 3.0, which is having an understanding of technology, wanting to build a global brand and being global in their thinking, and really being committed to having an impact in the community.” (USA Today)
Coincidentally the rivalry between Shaq’s Lakers and the Sacramento Kings began at the beginning of the 21st century. The Kings managed to push the heavily favored Lakers to five games (the first round was still a best-of-5 series in 2000), starting the rivalry that would last the first half of the decade. Both Shaq and Chris Webber dominated the series; Shaq averaged 29.4 points and 17.4 rebounds per game while shooting 54.3 percent from the field while Webber averaged 24.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists — though he struggled shooting from the field.
Part of the hope of bringing Shaq in is that he will be able to help mold DeMarcus Cousins — who recently signed a four-year, $62 million contract — into a dominant force capable of the types of numbers mentioned above. Shaq thinks Cousins is capable:
“Believe it or not we’re similar players. … 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.” (ESPN)
The problem is DeMarcus and Shaq are not that similar and Cousins could actually benefit from learning “moves” and developing an effective and consistent post game. Cousins does not possess the size, footwork or even the athleticism Shaq did and as a result is not as dominant around the paint. Shaq was always extremely efficient around the rim and paint area while DeMarcus is aggressively average in that regard — even as Shaq’s career dwindled down he was as good as Cousins is now near the rim. Cousins can benefit from those “conversations” with Shaq, especially if they entail establishing a mentality of hard work and efficiency in the post, but at the end of the day DeMarcus still needs to learn skills in order to become an elite back to the basket player.
The five-game series in 2000 was followed by a rather dull series between the two franchises in 2001, as the Lakers swept the Kings on their way to a 16-1 title-winning playoff campaign. Shaq, again, dominated the first two games of the series, but took somewhat of a back seat for Games 3 and 4, letting Kobe Bryant led the way with 42 points per game over the last two games. And to be honest, that is probably what we should expect from Shaq here. According to Forbes, sources say O’Neal has less than a 5 percent stake in the franchise and since the initial hoopla over his purchase, things have died down on the Shaqramento front. There is no doubt he will have some impact on the franchise going forward. It will probably be a small impact, though; or at least one that is felt more in the background.