ATLANTA (AP) – The calls came as soon as Shaquille O’Neal decided to retire, all wanting to hire one of the NBA’s greatest entertainers.
TNT’s “Inside the NBA” studio show had been O’Neal’s favorite as a player, so the choice was easy.
Get ready for the Big Analyzer, Big Commentator, or whatever other nickname he takes in the next phase of his career.
O’Neal agreed Thursday to a multiyear deal with Turner Sports to become an analyst on its NBA coverage, where he will fold his 7-foot-1 frame into the fourth chair on the TNT set alongside Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson.
“I’m just going to try to make it more fun than it already is,” O’Neal said during a conference call.
O’Neal also will contribute to NBA TV and NBA.com, and his agreement includes a development deal with Turner’s entertainment and animation networks.
O’Neal said he had offers from ABC/ESPN and others upon retiring last month, but quickly chose the Turner offer, saying he wasn’t interested in creating a bidding war for his services.
A four-time NBA champion during his 19-year career, O’Neal also had one of the NBA’s biggest personalities, with Turner Sports president David Levy calling him one of the most “dominant, popular and charismatic players in the NBA.” So O’Neal, who says he still one day expects to run for sheriff, was expected to quickly find work in the entertainment industry upon his retirement if he wanted it.
“The addition of ‘The Big Analytical’ will be terrific,” Smith said in a statement. “I can’t wait to make verbal passes to the most dominant center of our time.”
O’Neal will be part of TNT’s coverage of All-Star weekend — scheduled next season for Orlando, his first NBA home — and the playoffs. He doesn’t think it will be difficult having to criticize Kobe Bryant, whom he feuded with as Lakers teammates, or any other players.
“I have the ability and the backing to give fair criticism. The only time I have trouble with people giving criticism is when they haven’t walked that walk,” O’Neal said. “I’ve walked many walks in my 19-year career, so I think any criticism that I give should be fair.”
He showed a strong opinion in his first day on the job when referring to the state of the center position with himself and Yao Ming deciding to retire within a month of each other.
“The beasts are now gone, the Goliaths are now gone, so that leaves Dwight Howard out there by himself,” O’Neal said of Orlando’s All-Star center. “So if he doesn’t win two or three championships, I’ll be very disappointed, because he has no competition out there now. None. Zero.”
A 15-time All-Star, O’Neal decided to retire in fifth place on the league’s career scoring list after he was slowed by injuries in recent seasons. Even as his game suffered, he remained one of the NBA’s most popular players and should fit right in on the fourth seat of the TNT studio show, occupied mostly last season by Chris Webber.
Neither O’Neal nor Levy had any concern about O’Neal finding room to give his insight with Barkley and Smith already in place.
“Shaq knows the game and, on and off the floor, he has always been entertaining; a guy who gets it,” Johnson said.
O’Neal said he also expects to work on cartoons and TV shows, adding he’s interested in being the executive producer for a program.