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Owning a piece of an NBA team doesn’t give you much power or sway, but it’s an awesome flex. And it’s one that Shaquille O’Neal first enjoyed in 2013.
That’s when one of the Association’s all-time greats put up enough money to reportedly grab a small percentage of the Sacramento Kings when they were last up for sale. Eight years and an exponential increase in the value of every NBA franchise later, O’Neal’s cashed out. Not because he’s fed up with the Kings, who just happen to have the league’s longest postseason drought at 15 seasons and counting. And not because he had a falling out with majority owner Vivek Ranadive.
“It was awesome,” says O’Neal. “To just be in that position to have a piece of a team…I was a silent guy, though. I didn’t want to come and stand in the tunnel and tell Vivek “Do this, trade this guy, do that.’ Hopefully that will come in the future.”
The king of commercials, as we all know, has always been about his business since he retired from basketball following the 2010-11 season. And his decision to divest his stake in the Kings was a painful, albeit necessary one in order to pursue a new venture that was too good to pass up. O’Neal’s now a brand ambassador for the WynnBET sports gambling app and if this deal ends up being as profitable as the sale of his share of the Kings—the franchise reportedly sold for $534 million in 2013 and is currently valued at roughly $1.825 billion—chances are O’Neal could take another crack at purchasing a way bigger piece of a team down the road that just might allow to call some of the shots.
We caught up with O’Neal via Zoom last week to chat about letting go of the Kings and the Ben Affleck-directed commercial he makes a cameo in to promote his partnership with Wynn. “Shaq was a lot of fun and he was improvising and he had great energy,” Affleck told us. Of course, we also peppered the Inside the NBA star with a few questions about some of the biggest storylines from free agency while we had him.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
It looked like you had a fun time with Ben and Melvin Gregg filming the new spot for WynnBET. What was it like working with Affleck and having him direct you?
A lot of people don’t know that even though I’m the Shaq character and all that, when I see superstars I get giddy. I still can’t believe it’s them. I met Ben when I was young, when we first both came to LA. He’s always been cool, he’s always been nice, he’s always been a sports guy. What the superstars all did for me was give me the ability to step away from basketball two-to-three hours because if I’m doing this all the time I’d be terrible. But if I can go watch two-to-three great movies the night before a game and laugh—especially Adam Sandler, he had me rolling—then I go and play a game. Now if go to the arena, and they’re watching me, I can’t have a bad game in front of Denzel Washington. Are you kidding me? When they told me Ben Affleck was directing and my main man Melvin Gregg was going to be in there, I said to myself I have to step my game up. So for the first time only, I memorized my lines because I just wanted to bring the energy. Bro, you can’t have a commercial directed by Ben Affleck and you’re stinking it up. Whenever I see superstars I giggle and I try to give them the same enjoyment that they give me.