This surely wasn’t your father’s press conference.
From the second that the seven-footer walked in to the gym, you could tell that this was not going to be your typical introduction. Not only was it standing room only, there was just an aura that there were going to be some pretty good takeaways regardless of context. And it is pretty safe to say that no one left Cleveland Clinic Courts let down.
Seated exactly two rows behind Shauie O’Neal, I awaited the arrival of her husband – and one of the newest members of the Cleveland Cavaliers – Shaquille. St. Martin de Porres Family Center was kind enough to send their summer camp kids to the press conference, and his entrance was one of immediate fan fair as he high-fived every one of the children down a line, making his way to the stage.
The Plain Dealer has a great shot of the entrance here. And this was only the tip of the image (and soundbite) iceberg.
The image directly above is one that essentially set the tone for the entire press conference. After team owner Dan Gilbert presented O’Neal with his own snow boots (with the toes properly cut out for his size-22 feet) and snow shovel, the veteran center wasted no time tossing a few back at his new bosses. Cleveland’s new No. 33 said that when Danny Ferry had called him, he had to think… “Who’s Danny Ferry?” And then once he found a picture – with Ferry (then a member of the Spurs) and O’Neal himself in a very precarious position – he remembered exactly who Danny was. Frankly, the picture isn’t used enough even though we have featured it on WFNY before.
One thing that never slipped O’Neal’s mind is what the year 2009 means to him. The line that will resonate most with the city of Cleveland was what the big man deemed as his motto: “Win a ring for the King.” Following the press conference, Dan Gilbert took that line one step further by saying “Win a ring with the King.” Regardless, O’Neal appears to have one goal in mind and it is to win his fifth championship in the NBA.
As things come in threes, O’Neal said that he has already won rings with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. In his mind, there’s only one more player that needs one, and that is our very own LeBron James – a player who Shaq quoted as being right with San Antonio’s Tim Duncan in terms of basketball intelligence.
In fact, much of the press conference tended to revolve around James. From O’Neal claiming that this team is still 100 percent that of LeBron’s, to how “special” Shaq knew James was when watching him play high school basketball. In response to a question regarding having two “superstar” egos in the locker room, O’Neal quickly shot down the notion of any friction saying that he is here to help a team that was “already damn good without him” take the next step.
“I don’t really consider myself a superstar. Everyone knows this is LeBron’s team. I’m not trying to come in and change that.
I’m now in the security business. My job is to protect the King, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
O’Neal undoubtedly feels that his impact on the defensive side of the ball will be big. When fielding questions regarding the series against the Orlando Magic, not only did he hint towards a bit of luck – especially from players like “Petrie” and Rafer Alston “hitting shots off of the glass,” – but he also said that he’s still one of the top centers in the league and will be able to defend the post when needed. While patting Mike Brown on the shoulder, O’Neal mentioned more than one time that the Cavaliers will not be double-teaming anyone. Ever.
There were multiple questions regarding Twitter, as Shaq is one of the social media’s most popular users. O’Neal claimed that it is his way to show fans that he in fact is real, and can be silly and serious just like any one else. He has been no stranger to posting pictures of himself in wigs – “Cleveland’s hottest cheerleader” – as well as the the frequent game where he gives fans tickets if they find him in a visiting city.
Some moments of comedy gold came when O’Neal was asked where he will be living. His response to the reporter: “Your house.”
When asked about his possible participation with the local law enforcement, O’Neal said he could not answer that due to “being undercover.”
On the ever-popular quest to determine the big man’s nickname, the only name that was offered up at this time was “The Big Freeze.” While sounding a bit unsure of how that would stick, O’Neal said he would take some time with his kids to come up with something for the 2009 season.
Given the way that Dan Gilbert, Danny Ferry, Mike Brown and Shaquille O’Neal interacted on the stage, there is no doubt that the chemistry of this team will not be an issue. While there will likely be talks of a possible extension for the big man as the team looks to build beyond 2009, there is no doubt that this year is the focus. O’Neal’s uncle, who was quoted on multiple occasions, had once told his nephew to “focus on today.” And that is definitely what the big man plans to do as he takes the court with the Wine and Gold for this upcoming season.
Many thanks to the Cavaliers for letting me be a part of today’s press conference. The images of the jersey presentation and card from the media are property of WFNY. Image of Danny Ferry and Shaquille O’Neal is courtesy of the Plain Dealer.