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Shaquille O’Neal explains why he played ‘Kazaam’

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In 1996, Shaq's future was so bright he had to wear oversized shades (Andrew D. Bernstein/ Getty).

Since he entered the NBA world in 1992, Shaquille O'Neal has been a relentless and successful self-promoter. In advertisements, music, film, and commentary, everything he does exists in part to build up his personal brand. He's done extremely well for himself with this strategy, and he remains one of the league's most notable personalities even in retirement.

Sometimes, though, those branding-building endeavors turn out to be horrific disasters. Take, for instance, many of his film roles. While his performance as the amazingly named Neon Boudeaux in "Blue Chips" is still fondly remembered, his work in superhero bomb "Steel" and genie comedy "Kazaam" are running jokes. That's especially true of the latter, mostly because Shaq speaks in rhyme throughout the film and somehow dresses more ridiculously in contemporary clothes than his genie outfit. It's a '90s artifact that somehow seemed dated when it was released.

The movie is so bad people have wondered for years why Shaq agreed to be its star. In an interview with Mark Anthony Green of GQ, he explained his reasoning (via TBJ):

GQ: Wise words. You rapped for a second. You got into films for a second. Everyone remembers Kazaam. When was the last time you watched it?
Shaq: The other day.

GQ: Did it hold up to you?
Shaq: I was a medium-level juvenile delinquent from Newark who always dreamed about doing a movie. Someone said, "Hey, here's $7 million, come in and do this genie movie." What am I going to say, no? So I did it.

It's hard to argue with $7 million — I'm pretty sure I would do pretty much anything associated with "Kazaam" for that much money, even if I had to pretend to be a genie for five years. People have certainly done worse things than acting in Hollywood movies for that kind of cash, so I'm not going to knock Shaq too much for that choice.

[Related: Shaq hints at his plans for more teams at new Newark arena]

What's curious, though, is that earlier in the interview, when discussing his current work as a spokesman for Dove Men + Care, O'Neal says that "I only do deals with people I believe in." Unless that's a new method of picking projects, it stands to reason that Shaq also would have had to believe in "Kazaam" to take the role. This brings up two possibilities: (1) that Shaq doesn't actually believe in Dove and is just taking their money, or (2) that he saw some potential in "Kazaam" beyond the money.

Again, Shaq knows how to build a brand. And even though he had to do a bunch of silly things in "Kazaam" — like rapping with a little kid, raining down junk food in a warehouse, and teaching a little boy about coming to terms with his absent father via magic — it was still a family film that had the potential to reach a wide audience. While the money was nice, he probably also believed in the movie as a way to become more popular with a national audience of young fans.

It's easy for Shaq to explain away a mistake by saying he did it for the money — it's a little more ridiculous to explain the logic behind doing it for logical professional reasons. Shaq builds his brand in the same way today as he did in 1996. The difference is that he's figured out how to do it without playing a character who turns a man into a basketball and dunks him through an air duct.

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