Shaq Told Us Why Selling His Share of the Kings Was 'Heartbreaking'
He used to own a piece of the Kings. But Shaq's out of the ownership game and he told us why it was a tough, but necessary decision to divest his share.
MCDONOUGH, GEORGIA - APRIL 07: Shaquille O'Neal speaks during Pepsi Stronger Together and CTG Foundation Atlanta Law Enforcement Press Conference on April 07, 2021 in McDonough, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Pepsi Stronger Together)
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.
What was the energy like filming on the hotel/casino floor because Ben talked about how awesome it was to film in that environment?
Ben was great. The energy was great. I got to see J. Lo’s beautiful mom [Lupe] and it’s just fun watching a consummate professional. For people that don’t know, he’s a damn good director. He was like, “I want this, I want that.” I shoot 100 commercials a year and he was on top of his game. Melvin Gregg was also fun, it was just a great environment and a great place to be. Look, I haven’t played basketball in 12-to-13 years, I’m kind of amazed that people know who I still I am. But to be on the same casino floor as Ben Affleck that’s big, buddy.
I asked Ben if he had a fun sports gambling story. I’m wondering if you have a sports gambling story that comes close to that?
My sports gambling story, because of course I never bet on a game during my NBA career, is I was shooting a TV series called—and you can look this up, this is documented—Shaq Vs. and I’m in Pittsburgh with my good friend Ben Roethlisberger. So we’re at the 50-yard line and Ben’s bragging about how much of a quarterback he is. And I mention to him that I played quarterback when I was younger. He’s like, “I bet you $1,000 you can’t hit the goalpost from here.” And on the first try, pa-ping. And Ben paid me, paid me very well.
Why did you team up with WynnBet?
Well, I had to divest my ownership in the Kings. I’m a brand partner with the hotel. We believe WynnBET is going to be the next big player in sports betting and igaming space. And I’m all about challenges. I’m all about good business. I’m all about helping people, making people smile and I thought this was a great opportunity to get in this space.
Was it a hard decision selling your interest in the franchise?
It was very tough. Actually, heartbreaking. Trying to find loopholes around it, but couldn’t. I’ve always been one to follow the rules. The NBA’s been good to me, Adam Silver’s been good to me. I had a good conversation with Vivek, who is a brilliant businessman. Like I said, we know and believe WynnBET is going to be the next big player in the online sports gaming space. For me it was a no-brainer. I have equity in this business and hopefully it does well. Right now, WynnBET is live in six states and we have access to 16 total states and we’re on par with all the other major players in the space and we go live with our seventh state being Arizona Thursday, Sept. 9th.
I’m going to imagine you made a nice profit off of that sale since NBA valuations have skyrocketed over the past decade.
Yeah, I did very well.
For the average fan that dreams about owning even just a slice of a team, what is it really like to have a small stake in an NBA franchise?
It was awesome. 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. But it was another impressive title that I had. NBA legend, Hall of Famer, three-time Finals MVP, former NBA minority owner. It was actually great.
The way you just talked you have ownership aspirations down the road.
Maybe. I always have a lot of dreams and I don’t like to talk about them too much. Right now it’s about WynnBET. This right here is my new baby so I gave up one baby and had another baby. Or gave up one girlfriend and now I’m dating WynnBET.
Gotta ask about some of the offseason moves while we have you. Did you like what the Lakers did in free agency?
Yeah, they definitely stacked their team. They’re older, but until you can show me a young team that has dominated the league I’m not really worried too much about their age.
Does the Bulls’ roster make sense to you? We’re talking about Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and they have Nikola Vucevic from the trade deadline last March. The jury’s kind of hung on whether that’s a roster that’s playoff-caliber in the Eastern Conference or destined to be an 11th seed.
They’re going to try and do the Golden State thing. Four smalls, try to spread it out, shoot, run, Zach LaVine shoot threes, Lonzo get everyone involved so it’s going to be an experiment. So hopefully the experiment does pretty good, but you ain’t going to win a championship with that team.
Is there anyway Ben Simmons can open the season with the Sixers?
I say no. He hasn’t had a lot of communication with them this summer. He hasn’t gotten any better over the last four years. If you don’t have communication with upstairs it’s not going to go well. Philly fans gave up on him, or are starting to give up on him. It’ll probably be good for him to go somewhere else. But I follow him and he’s been shooting that jumper on his page. So if he does comeback his jumper better be Steph Curry’s.