JaVale McGee doesn’t appreciate the way Shaquille O’Neal makes fun of him, or how often he does it. The athletic shot-blocker and lob finisher’s penchant for doing goofy, embarrassing, hard to justify things on the basketball court has made him a perennial featured player on O’Neal’s popular “Shaqtin’ a Fool” segment on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” coverage, with Shaq highlighting JaVale’s blunders during his days with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets. McGee is the only two-time MVP of “Shaqtin’ a Fool.”
While O’Neal is far from the only one who has laughed at JaVale’s miscues over the years, McGee has made it clear that he doesn’t find Shaq’s segment or its effect on his reputation funny in the least. He told Anthony Slater of the Bay Area News Group this summer that “it’s just really disappointing that grown men, 50, 40 year olds are having ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ of a player, and then making it a hashtag and really just trying to ruin someone’s career over basketball mistakes.”
Last week, O’Neal offered McGee — now working to rehabilitate his image and resuscitate his career playing as a reserve big man for the West-leading Golden State Warriors — an exemption from appearing on “Shaqtin’ a Fool” for the next five episodes if he could go three straight games without making the kind of glaring mistake that has landed him on the countdown in the past. Given their social media interaction on Tuesday, though, one suspects O’Neal might not be feeling quite so willing to give JaVale any kind of free pass.
It all started with McGee sharing a photo of his new 2017 hairstyle — a very muscular rat-tail, if you’re asking — on Instagram:
New year new me! I'm wearing my hair like this for 2017! Y'all rock with it? Tag someone who would rock this hairstyle! #javale #javalemcgee #juglife #juglifewater #godubs #dubnation #warriors #rattail
A photo posted by Javale Pierre McGee (@javalemcgee) on Jan 3, 2017 at 10:02am PST
O’Neal caught wind of McGee’s new ‘do and couldn’t resist taking a swipe at him on Twitter:
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 3, 2017
A little over an hour later, McGee responded … and what a response it was:
In his tweet, McGee intimates that O’Neal is a minstrel, and compares Shaq to Bert Williams, a late 19th- and early 20th-century comedian and actor who performed in minstrel shows, wore blackface, and starred on the vaudeville circuit. He’d become one of the most famous black performers of the 1900s.
This seems like kind of a nuclear response to a joke about a haircut. It is also not the first time McGee has used this kind of language to describe what O’Neal does; while playing for the Nuggets in 2013, McGee appeared on “Inside the NBA” in an awkward interview with O’Neal and the TNT crew, and referred to the segment as “Shaqtin’ a Coon.”
Phillip Barnett of Uproxx felt that McGee’s Tuesday response went beyond the pale of good taste, doing a disservice to O’Neal, Williams and himself:
Williams, an immigrant from the Bahamas, helped pave the way for the black actors and musicians helping to create much of the culture consumed in this country today. Like many black entertainers in the early 20th Century, he was forced into playing villains and the role of the “coon” if he was to get work during an epoch full of Minstrel and Vaudeville shows. Despite this, he was wildly respected by his peers of any race and eventually became the first black man to earn the lead role on a Broadway stage.
Williams was a pioneer who died at a young age because of the stress and depression that came with paving the way for those who would come later.
In some ways, O’Neal paved the way for McGee. Not just as a basketball player, but as a fun loving, free spirited human in what can sometimes be a dour NBA. While O’Neal isn’t blameless here (it’s frustrating watching those outside of the culture take shots at black hair, and O’Neal certainly aided this in a public space), but the idea that you can take someone like Williams, and turn his career into a negative mark in the history of black men and women working to make things better for the next generation is the wrong way to get back at O’Neal.
An hour after McGee’s tweet, O’Neal responded by playing the whole thing off as no big deal:
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 4, 2017
We’ll see if he and McGee are content to leave it there, or if this uncomfortable and charged interaction takes another turn come Thursday’s “Inside the NBA” broadcast.
More NBA coverage:
– – – – – – –