INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – The lights abruptly shut off at the Cleveland Cavaliers' practice facility Monday afternoon, leaving LeBron James(notes) to navigate the hallway in the dark. James wasted no time in assessing blame.
"That's never happened in all these years," James said. "Shaq comes and the lights are out."
Electrical outage or not, there was no denying that James and the rest of the Cavaliers spent their first day of training camp standing in Shaquille O'Neal's(notes) shadow. Even James, for all of his greatness, can't eclipse Shaq's mammoth personality.
"Shaq," James said, "definitely brings that excitement."
The Cavaliers also hope O'Neal brings them a ring. Despite finishing last season with the NBA's best record, the Cavs lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. Needing to better match up with Dwight Howard(notes), Cleveland traded for O'Neal a month later.
"I've gone through a lot in my NBA career, but I haven't had a chance to win an NBA championship," James said. "He's been a part of it. He's brought home championships and even lost two. The opportunity to be around a champion is going to help us and help me."
Said O'Neal: "Believing is the first key. So when you have someone that has been there, done that, believe in what he says and believe in what he does."
This is new territory for James. He has a documentary headed to the theaters, a feature film in the works and countless commercials on his resume. No athlete is bigger in Ohio than King James. But he's also going to have to share the stage with a teammate for the first time since he joined the Cavaliers. James has chosen the Cavs' intro music each of the past two seasons. This season?
"We'll probably have to ask Shaq what he thinks now, too," one Cleveland employee said.
O'Neal carries his own global appeal. He just had his own reality show on network television and still ranks among sports' top endorsers. A "Welcome to Cleveland" party for O'Neal sold out quickly and drew celebrities and star athletes from each of the city's major teams – along with an Olympic gymnast and star boxer. O'Neal arrived fashionably late, entering the party after a stroll down the red carpet.
For all the attention O'Neal likely will draw, he has pledged to defer to James on the court.
"I'm cordially and respectfully passing the torch," O'Neal said. "I'm 37. It's not my time anymore. I've had my time and I did what I did. I'm not one of those players that always think it's his time. It would not be advantageous for us or me to be taking 30 shots at 37 when you got a guy like him.
"Give him the ball and let him do what he does. I'm being real. … But you know and I know, when I had my time no one did it better."
This is James' time, of course. He is the league's reigning MVP and has distinguished himself as one of its brightest stars. Now he'll have to cede some of the spotlight. The last player to command equal billing with James? New Cavs forward Leon Powe(notes).
James played on an AAU team with Powe following his sophomore year in high school. Of the two, Powe was initially more touted. Powe admits that quickly changed as James grew into the team's star.
Powe also played for the Boston Celtics' championship team two seasons ago. Boston coach Doc Rivers pushed his three All-Stars (Kevin Garnett(notes), Paul Pierce(notes) and Ray Allen(notes)) to put their egos aside, and Powe believes James and O'Neal can have similar success with the same mentality.
"In order for things like that to work … they have to be willing to exist with each other," Powe said. "If one needs to say something to the other, they need to listen. Here, I don't see no problem with that."
History hasn't always been on O'Neal's side. He and Penny Hardaway went to the 1995 NBA Finals with the Magic, but they didn't see eye to eye and never truly realized their potential. O'Neal and Kobe Bryant(notes) won three championships together with the Los Angeles Lakers, but their deteriorating relationship also led to their undoing. O'Neal then won a title with Dwyane Wade(notes) and the Miami Heat in 2006, but the two also reportedly parted on less-than-amicable terms.
Such issues, O'Neal vowed, are in the past.
"That time of my career I was a different player," O'Neal said. "Kobe said it the best, 'Two alpha males on the same team.'…"
James scoffed at the thought of calling Bryant and Wade for advice on coexisting with O'Neal.
"For what?" James said. "He's a teammate. It's not like I adopted a kid or something."
On Monday, James spoke unenthusiastically to the media horde in a corner of the Cavs' practice facility. A couple hours later, O'Neal appeared in the weight room to accommodate even more reporters. Teammates and other members of the organization stood nearby to listen. O'Neal charmed them all, touting his past accomplishments while also joking about himself – he called his small shorts "Brad Daugherty-ish."
"I'm still the funniest guy in the league," O'Neal said.
Time will tell whether O'Neal and James can mesh together on the court. The more pressing question: Can their egos coexist, too?
"Our No. 1 goal is to win an NBA championship," James said. "That's the only thing we need to talk about right now."