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Ball Don't Lie

Shaquille O’Neal grades his TNT work, disses Steve Nash

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley insult each other (Jesse D. Garrabrant/ Getty).

Shaquille O'Neal has been a mixed bag on TNT's "Inside the NBA" this season, to the point where some people have even credited him with ruining the show. That's overkill — if the show is worse, it's certainly for additional reasons, as well — but it gets at his uneasy fit with the rest of the group. At some point, he'll need to offer something more than yelling out catchphrases during highlight packages.

To his credit, Shaq realizes he's not a finished product as a broadcaster. In an interview with Vibe magazine, he gave himself a middling grade for his work so far (via Deadspin):

VIBE: Evaluate your performance so far in the new gig.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL: I'm at a low -C. I'm learning and will only get better. I just want to keep people entertained. I don't want to be talking with the big vocabulary and all that [expletive]. I'm short and to the point. I'm very educated and can give you somewhat of a vocabulary, but I don't get to the philosophical side.

The problem for Shaq so far hasn't necessarily been that he's too smart or "philosophical" — no one would consider Charles Barkley to be the most knowledgeable or thoughtful NBA analyst around, and he's as popular as ever. Shaq's biggest deficiency so far has been that his notion of entertainment doesn't quite jibe with the spontaneous, off-the-cuff remarks that have made "Inside the NBA" appointment television every Thursday for basketball fans. Shaq seems to be overthinking his jokes instead of just making them. The hope is that he'll get more comfortable and ease into his role.

Of course, a Shaq interview wouldn't be complete without a little jawing at former teammates. Except, while this interview touches on his oft-mentioned feud with Kobe Bryant, the most interesting discussion concerns Steve Nash and his two MVP awards:

VIBE: Some sportswriters think you underachieved because you only won one MVP.

Shaq: Steve Nash is my boy, but I don't see how the [expletive] he got it twice. I was taught never to complain because you can't beat the system. People know who the real dominant guy was. But Steve Nash, I don't want to say it because you might print it and it might cause problems. I don't believe he beat me out twice.

MVP awards are often given more on the basis of a good narrative than best performance, and in that sense, Shaq has an argument about losing out on the 2004-05 trophy. (His complaints about 2005-06 make no sense, though, because he played in only 59 games that season. He was a key factor in winning the championship but had less to do with their regular-season success.) That's minor, though, in comparison to his larger point about the awards. Judging his career as a disappointment because he only won a single MVP discounts that Shaq was the most dominant force in the NBA for the better part of a decade. The nameless sports writers mentioned in Vibe's question are getting bogged down in inconsequential details. History is about more than what people thought at the time.

That's also why, even though people might be skeptical about Shaq's performance on TNT now, it's worth giving him an honest shot. Despite being a little hammy, he has a strong personality that could flourish once he finds a suitable role at the desk. His "low-C" might be a generous grade now, but it's not the final verdict. That usually comes at the end, not as people judge things in the moment. Just ask Steve Nash.

Still, though, let's get more Chris Webber on TNT. Some people announce themselves as stars and render hindsight irrelevant.

UPDATE: Shaq took to Tout.com to come out against "yellow journalism," which implies he thinks he did not give this interview. I'm not sure why someone would feel the need to fabricate large parts of a conversation, but in the interest of fairness we must note Shaq's response.

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