LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Shaquille O’Neal is going to dig this.
Turner Sports and the NBA’s most comedic and dominant big man reached a multi-year extension with Turner Sports that will include an expanded role with TNT’s "Inside the NBA" and "NBA on TNT" coverage.
Perhaps that might not be surprising given O’Neal’s Hall-of-Fame credentials, opinions and on-air clashes with Charles Barkley have contributed to the network winning six Emmy’s during his nine-year tenure.
But after joining Turner in 2011 following his 19-year NBA career, O’Neal described his first year as “kind of rough” fitting in with Barkley, Kenny Smith and host Ernie Johnson.
“I wanted to be a professional like you, but the producer said, ‘We didn’t bring you here for that,’” O’Neal recalled to USA TODAY Sports. “‘This isn’t ESPN. We don’t want you to look at the cameras. We don’t want the analytics. We want you to be yourself.’ So once I started following that, I became more comfortable.”
Shaquille O'Neal first joined Turner Sports in 2011. (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)
O’Neal often appears comfortable when he argues with Barkley about anything and everything. Inevitably, O’Neal often brings up the championship disparity between himself (three with the Los Angeles Lakers; one with the Miami Heat) and Barkley (zero).
O’Neal insisted he does not derive particular enjoyment in reminding Barkley about his lack of hardware during stints with the Philadelphia 76ers (1984-1992), Phoenix Suns (1992-96) and Houston Rockets (1996-2000). Instead, O’Neal considered it important to remind Barkley about that history when explaining what it takes to win an NBA title.
“One question when you’re talking to a so-called expert, you always have to ask, ‘How do you know?’” O’Neal said. “For example, Neil Armstrong can say, ‘When you go on the moon, you can walk like this.’ So with him, we can’t say, ‘How do you know?’ We know he knows because he walked on the moon.”
O’Neal conceded that dig “probably” bothers Barkley. After all, he often responds that O’Neal simply benefited from playing with Kobe Bryant on the Lakers (1996-2004) and Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat (2004-08). O’Neal then often counters with his three Finals MVPs.
All seems harmless enough. After all, O’Neal revealed that he and Barkley have never had an extended argument or fight off the air even after trading personal insults or having heated disagreements. The reason? After Barkley and O’Neal had an on-court scuffle during the 1999-2000 season, O’Neal realized that both of their moms have been long-time best friends.
“Both of us are mama’s boys,” O’Neal said. “So both of us had to cut it out.”
Expect the on-air ribbing to continue, though.
O’Neal will have a new show on NBA TV (“The Bizne$$ of Basketball”). He will expand “Shaqtin a Fool,” which shows various NBA bloopers along with his digs. He plans to DJ during CNN’s “New Year’s Eve Live.” His podcast will be distributed through the WarnerMedia Podcast Network beginning early next year, and he plans to serve as an executive producer on various projects for Bleacher Report.
“We realize that if we’re going to keep you up late after games that we have to entertain you,” O’Neal said. “We have two Hall-of-Famers up there, a guy that has won a championship and the most consummate professional in Ernie Johnson. People know and trust our work. We’re always going to make you laugh. The greatest thing is that it’s natural. People always say is that scripted? No, it’s just off the top.”
Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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