- The Season's Over -

Does Anybody in NBA History Better Personify “Petulance” than Shaquille O’Neal?

March 28, 2008

Shaquille O'Neal loves the camera

Shaquille O’Neal Photos Credit: Icon SMI

“It’s sad that he says those things. We shared so much here, together, for three years, good and bad, 3 1/2 years. I just think it’s sad that he’s got to do that. He didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to play for [this] kind of situation, 35 years old. He wanted to go to a contender and we sent him there. We sent him to Utopia and we’re left here with the carnage and I don’t know why he’s not happy. It’s really a shame that he would insult those people like that because they gave him care. They cared. They didn’t kiss his butt. They cared about him.” – Pat Riley, Miami Heat Head Coach

Over the course of his long, storied NBA career, Shaquille O’Neal has come to be known as The NBA’s Most Dominating Player. He’s won four NBA championships and was voted into 15 consecutive All-Star games. He’s been signed to recording contracts and landed numerous leading and supporting roles in Hollywood (fortunately for O’Neal I’m focusing on the quantity of those two endeavors, not the quality). He’s never experienced a shortage of major endorsement deals, while massive contracts in the NBA alone have made him a millionaire many, many times over. The media hangs on his every word and laughs at every tired one-liner or quip.

Almost anybody who’s even somewhat plugged into Western culture knows who Shaquille O’Neal is. He remains bigger than life and sometimes bigger than the game that made him famous. Nobody can take away or diminish the significant accomplishments he’s achieved.

But… why. Why. Why. Why.

Why does a man who’ll go down in history as one of the most influential and successful players in NBA history still, after all these years, never take the high road in the face of criticism? Why does he still rarely give credit to an opponent that bests him? Why is he still considered just a big, lovable goof? And why does he still get a free pass from the media and basketball fans alike despite his childish, boorish, and often inappropriate behavior?

Does Shaquille O’Neal really need to go on a tirade about Pat Riley and his former Miami Heat teammates?

Does Shaquille O’Neal really need to issue a harsh rebuke of Bill Walton because the man did what ESPN pays him to do?

What does Shaquille O’Neal stand to gain from engaging in one pissing match after another?

Nothing. This is just who Shaquille O’Neal is: a petulant, insecure brute incapable of self-control with a microphone in his face. He always has to be “on” and always has to have the last word in spats big and small, whether it’s with Kobe, or Vlade Divac, or Jerry Buss, or Pat Riley, or Bill Walton, or …

To hear the media tell it, Shaquille O’Neal is at all times a gregarious, easy-going ol’ funster who’s always quick to make us laugh and who can still work a room with the best of them. And maybe that’s true to a degree. But suppose it was, say, Ron Artest who issued all of these personal insults Shaq has publicly hurled at opponents and ex-associates alike. Suppose it was Artest who had displayed all the poor sportsmanship Shaq has shown in defeat, and Artest who was overly defensive whenever criticized. Ron Artest would be absolutely vilified and held up as an example of a bad role model, of a bad teammate, and a bad ambassador for the NBA. But Shaquille O’Neal has something Ron Artest doesn’t: a free pass.

Everybody wants to view him as this big goofy jokester, and he loves nothing more than to project himself that way. The reality of the situation, however, is that most of the time he comes off like an immature asshole whenever he opens his mouth and very few call him out for it.

Much more on Shaquille O’Neal’s petulant behavior after the break…

O’Neal’s recent dust-up with Pat Riley is not surprising; it simply continues a trend of burning bridges that has spanned most of the big man’s professional career. “I love playing for this coach and I love playing with these guys,” O’Neal told the Globe in reference to the Phoenix Suns. “We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I’m actually on a team again.” Yes, Shaq is on a team again and thank God he’s away from the Miami Heat, an organization that has been pretty classy to him and gave him another ring. Shaq’s backstabbing comments about his former franchise are pretty low even for him. **UPDATE** Told about Riley’s “it’s sad” remarks, O’Neal couldn’t help himself—again—saying that he didn’t “give a shit that Riley is disappointed. Sue me.”

Forget for a moment how all those (former) fans of his must feel today in Miami. Forget for a moment how his old best friend, Dwyane Wade, must feel today. (Betrayed and insulted come to mind.) Let’s not forget that from the moment O’Neal arrived in Miami, Pat Riley and the Heat bent over backwards to be as accommodating and understanding with him as humanly possible. They changed their style of play and built their roster around him. They made him the face of the franchise (not Wade). They put him in a position to win another championship. They dealt with all of his injuries, big and small, and dubiously long rehabs with kind tolerance. This season, Riles begged and pleaded with the media to push for O’Neal’s inclusion in the All-Star Game even though he most certainly did not deserve it. And, of course, in the end the Heat unburdened him of playing for a losing team by sending him to a contender.

Yet, still, over a month later after he was traded he’s still compelled to take cheap shots. But, hey, loyalty is important to Shaq. “I don’t take loyalty lightly. If you tell me you’re going to do something, I expect you to do it,” he once told the Los Angeles Times in reference to Lakers owner Jerry Buss. “And then when you change your mind without telling me, that means you’re disloyal so we can’t be down anymore.”


When Yao Ming entered the league in 2002, Shaquille O’Neal was still at or near the top of his game and still the toast of Western Conference centers. With so much talk about Yao and the potential impact he would have on the league, Shaq simply couldn’t take it. What followed were a series of comments (I know most of you have heard them before, long ago, but bear with me) that re-raised a number of questions about O’Neal’s character. The following are direct quotes, and all were made in reference to or directly to Yao Ming shortly after O’Neal was named winner of the NAACP Young Leaders Award:

“I look forward to breaking down that motherfucker’s body,” said O’Neal. “He said my name three times, two in Chinese and one in American. You don’t ever call me out. I’m from LSU.” (Yao never “called” him out)

“Wang Zhu, whatever your name is, you want some of shaq-fu, you come get it. I’ll be waiting for you.” (Video)

“Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.”‘

Of course, the uproar was temporary. “I said it jokingly, so this guy was just trying to stir something up that’s not there,” said O’Neal about criticism of his comments. “He’s just somebody who doesn’t have a sense of humor, like I do. I don’t have to have a response to that (the charges of racism) because the people who know me know I’m not.”

And, just like that, it became just another harmless O’Neal quip. And that was that… ergh, not exactly. After very few in the media reported on the “ching-chong,” um, “joke,” Fox Sports Radio’s Tony Bruno played the clip a few times and then… this.

The only reason anyone knows about Shaq’s latest taunt is because Fox Sports Radio’s Tony Bruno Morning Extravaganza played a recording of the taunt several times to its nationwide audience on Dec. 16 and 17. On the latter day, Bruno commented that Shaq’s comment was “not racist,” and then invited listeners and radio commentators to call in jokes making racist fun of Chinese. For hours, people cracked jokes, such as offering free bike parking to increase Chinese attendance at basketball games.

On Christmas Day, while calling the Celtics-Nets game for ABC, veteran sportscaster Brent Musburger lamented that “the hordes of China” might stuff the All-Star ballot box and vote Yao Ming in as the Western Conference’s starting center, rather than Shaquille O’Neal. Then, in “honor” of Yao’s first game in Miami, the Miami Heat on Dec. 16 passed out 8,000 fortune cookies to spectators. Yao found the promotion amusing but pointed out that fortune cookies have nothing to do with him.


In 2004, current Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr had this to say about O’Neal on TNT: “I don’t know if Shaq has that killer instinct, but it’s probably a good thing he doesn’t, because there would be a lot of dead people lying around the floor.” TV commentators say a lot of things, and that doesn’t seem especially ill-intentioned on Kerr’s part. But, of course, O’Neal had to retort: “You have to know what killer instinct is to comment on it. (Kerr) has never had a killer instinct, he’s just been a lucky guy on the end of the bandwagon, several times. He doesn’t know what killer instinct is.”


Remember when the Sacramento Kings were a major force in the Western Conference? And when the Lakers beat them in the playoffs despite Sactown’s home-court advantage? O’Neal was gracious in victory, as always.

And then there was the war of words with Walton, which we touched on once already. Here’s the video of Walton’s comments, and here’s O’Neal’s bitter response:

“I heard Mr. Walton’s comments, and I think Mr. Walton has broken the big man pecking order code, ordinance 2257. Which means his resume isn’t quite good enough to speak on what I have done. I’ve spoken to Bill Russell, I’ve had conversations with Wilt Chamberlain, haven’t spoken with Kareem. And I looked at what Mr. Walton had done and I looked at what Mr. Walton has said and one thing I hate is a hypocrite. So if I’m faking a injury, his whole injury-plagued career is a fake. Here’s a guy who only played one or two seasons injury-free, and now he’s talking about me being injured. And one thing I really hate is a hypocrite. If Bill was playing with me right now… you remember what happened to Greg Ostertag? You remember that, right? So, that’s the type of guy I am, so…

Right. Uh huh. We do know what type of guy you are, Mr. O’Neal.

There are many other instances of O’Neal’s ungraciousness in defeat (“It’s not what they did, it’s what we didn’t do” was his favorite line after Miami’s playoff losses to the Detroit Pistons) as well of his childish retorts to anyone and everyone who expresses even the slightest bit of criticism of him. As you may have noticed, I haven’t even touched upon the big Kobe Feud or his clash with assistant coach Tex Winters. But I think I’ve made my point.

Shaquille O’Neal is as physically gifted as any player to ever step foot on an NBA court. He revolutionized the center position, has carried the load on multiple NBA title-winning teams, and single-handedly made opposing coaches re-evaluate and re-jig their game plans whenever they were forced to deal with him. If he had ever bothered to learn how to shoot free throws, his on-court legacy would be practically free of tarnish, save for all those massive elbows he’s fond of throwing whenever the opposing defense frustrates him.

Like I said, nobody can take that away from him. But nobody should forget or take away his contemptible speech, his petty insults, or his indelicate jokes either.

Tags: Shaquille O’Neal, Pat Riley, Yao Ming

21 Comments »Posted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 28, 2008 at 12:04 am in ETB Articles, NBA

21 Responses

I usually don’t like when people write in all caps, but I must say, THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS ARTICLE! I HAVE AWAITED ITS ARRIVAL FOR YEARS! It’s pretty incredible how much everyone lets Shaq slide with all the comments he has made, and not a single media personality (that I’ve seen) calls Shaq out on his immaturity. I’ll admit, I’m one of those Laker fans who helplessly stew over one brushed-aside Shaq-ism after another while Kobe gets crucified on a daily basis whether or not he even says anything. It’s kind of like those movies where the bad guy is deceiving everyone with his charms while you yell at the TV, “DON’T BELIEVE HIM! HE’S THE BAD GUY!” Even if you and I are the only ones on earth who agree with the words in this article, at least this article now exists, and the Interweb will ensure its existence for all eternity.

Posted by: Xevin on March 28th, 2008 at 4:46 am

The Pistons quote is my favorite. “What we didn’t do.” Nice. Perhaps if he had passed on a few Big Macs (no, wait…Whoppers) he might have been under 400 pounds (literally). When people talk of the “could’ve beens,” it’s always the Vince Carters, Randy Mosses, and Chris Webbers. Even with his four rings, Shaq deserves on that list. Shaq could have and should have been the greatest center of all time. His lack of off-season conditioning and selfishness prevented that.

Posted by: Shinons on March 28th, 2008 at 8:42 am

i agree with Xevin… haha. omg, i hate that man. everytime i see shaq on tv i want to scream… that dopey “i’m so cute and lovable” grin is so insincere, it makes me want to kick him in the gut. great article.

Posted by: M on March 28th, 2008 at 9:22 am

and ps his comments about yao ming are both deeply racist (in bizarrely 1950s kind of way) and unconscionable. he should have been taken to task for that like any other media personality would have been.

Posted by: M on March 28th, 2008 at 9:23 am

I also love that when he apologized for the Yao Ming quotes he said, “I’m sorry IF I offended anybody.” IF. Not, “My remarks were offensive” or a categorical “I’m sorry.” That’s the most frustrating thing about Shaq is the refusal of everybody to take him to task, including himself. I was so glad when Walton called him out, it was a rare instance where I actually agreed with Big Red.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on March 28th, 2008 at 9:53 am

You touched a nerve with this post, and I have to admit that I totally agree. I’ve noticed the Shaq bitterness for some time, and it’s a shame that he was allowed to bury Kobe for so many years without anyone considering the source. (Kobe had issues too, but Shaq didn’t deserve the free pass he got to cut down teammates). I’ll try to link to this sometime soon, but even if I forget, know that this might be the best sports blog article I read this week. Good work!

Posted by: mcbias on March 28th, 2008 at 10:40 am

I do want to spout in with a bit of moderation – I’ve never really disliked Shaq with the same vigor and vehemence that I have Kobe and others. In fact, I think the answer to the question posed by Brian of “why, why, why” can’t Shaq just let anything go is because of insecurity whereas Kobe is the antithesis, with his downfall being arrogance.

Not meaning to start a Kobe-Shaq flame war or anything, it’s just a perspective.

Posted by: Shinons on March 28th, 2008 at 11:03 am

Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi published a column this morning that’s pretty on topic with this discussion. I had forgotten about O’Neal’s parting comments about Orlando when he left for LA (he called the city “a dried-up little pond.”)


Posted by: Brian Spencer on March 28th, 2008 at 11:31 am

Sometimes dicks are just simply entertaining. Like Eddie Haskel. Give me Shaq’s candor over Jordan’s corporatespeak 7 days a week.

Posted by: phil anselmo on March 28th, 2008 at 12:34 pm


Shaquille O’Neal always seems as though he’s either the junior high bully, or the one who got picked on all the time. And it is just…..beneath a player of his caliber to do this every…single…time.

I get that it is extraordinarily difficult for a man of his size to stay in shape. I realize he takes more of a beating in the paint than most any other player. I understand that he loves to be the focus of all the attention. I also can’t stand the tin ear of a man who clearly has such sensitivity to criticism that he has to lash out at anyone in his past, whether they deserve it or not.

There is no question he is one of the greatest players in NBA history. And much of this will be plowed under in the sweep of his grandeur and sense of humor when he finally does retire and go to the Hall of Fame. But I won’t forget.

Posted by: George on March 28th, 2008 at 12:40 pm

I was in Jr high when Shaq came into the league and I detested him until a few years ago. I’m reminded of a jerry garcia quote, comparing the dead to “old whores and bad architecture” in that if you stick around long enough, you’re bound garner some respect.

I see most of your points, but the “its what we didn’t do, not what they did to win.” stuff is just a confidence thing and its not as if shaq was the first, only, or last athlete to use that defense mechanism.

Very well written article, though.

Posted by: phil anselmo on March 28th, 2008 at 12:45 pm

You want to know why Shaq is so popular?


Posted by: Dan on March 28th, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Dan, you just wasted two minutes of my life and I want them back. I was seriously grossed out by that display.

And doesn’t that just feed into how petulant he is? And the image of the lovable big goof that has been accepted, despite that fact that he’s proven himself to be a major league assh*le?

Posted by: James Ambrose on March 28th, 2008 at 1:45 pm

I’ve been thinking all of these things for years and wondering if I was the only one who noticed these things. If any other athlete said half the stuff Shaq said they’d be crucified and called a cancer. But Shaq is great with a mic in his face and gets lavished with praise.

Posted by: Karl on March 28th, 2008 at 3:14 pm

By the way, when asking “Does anyone in NBA history personify petulance more than Shaq?”, does Joey Crawford count?

Posted by: Shinons on March 28th, 2008 at 3:17 pm

It’s also worth mentioning that Shaq is the only person in the history of civilization to have a feud with David Robinson. You can guess which side started that.

I’ve had a soft spot for Shaq for years, but this is a great article.

Posted by: frank on March 28th, 2008 at 4:39 pm

yes, yes, a million times yes.

Shaq is nothing but an oversized 14 year old who refuses to mature or accept responsibility for anything.

To hell with the Fat Ass.

Posted by: grungedave on March 28th, 2008 at 5:44 pm

And now you all know why Lakers fans hate Shaq now. It’s not because we’re ungrateful of what he’s done for LA in helping with the 3-peat championships, but it’s what happened after he left LA.

The last year he was with the Lakers, Shaq bragged that all he needed was Gary Peyton and Karl Malone to get another ring. Wrong! Then suddenly D. Wade was the “best player in the game”; he “loved him like a little brother”. Two years later, the Heat sink into the mud and Shaq runs back to the west. Now, he’s going to take Amare “to the next level”.
What happened? Did Wade suddenly fall out of favor? Is that what happened to Penny Hardaway, and then Kobe?

What he’s said about Miami, the Lakers, it just all shows that he’s the bandwagon-er. He has no right to accuse Bill Walton of that when Shaq is the one running to good teams (Miami and Suns) and leaching of their backs to win championships.

Posted by: PeanutButterSpread on March 28th, 2008 at 6:05 pm

OK…OK…i totally understand what you are saying about Shaq…I have met Shaq many times since I am from Orlando and travel to Miami consantly…BUT…i have to say this…believe it or not, people hate Shaq becuase he is real…most NBA players have been superstars since they started in the game…plush limos, mansions, free bar tabs and pretty much anything they want…thats not the normal life…no 9-5…no job interviews…so whats my point right? my point is that even though they have been spoiled for a while, they are still normal people…they just have a different outlook on life, from their “status” in this world…their thoughts on life are usually a little different than our thoughts on life…Shaq beats someone up in the club? the world knows within the hour…NBA player cheats on his wife? we know within the hour…if i choke out my wife in the club after she caught me in a threesome and then light her on fire in front of the cops? maybe a couple of people will hear about it and it might get a 6 sentence article on page 12 of the “Community” section in the daily paper….

my point is this: NBA players are supposed to be “ON” 24/7…they are role models for kids, heroes for some people, looked up to by millions…so they must “act” differently for the camera and for the people..they get paid millions so why not straighten up right? its true but why cant u have a couple of them be real? like really real? like say what they want and be a normal person? i know it will stir this up but me personally, i like the way Shaq is..he says what he feels at whatever time it happens..i commend him for having the balls to open his mouth and say stupid things every once in a while…i do it all the time as well as most of the people reading this…u know u have said something stupid in public or wherever and wished u could take it back but chances r that it was the truth of how u felt at the time…whats the difference with Shaq…props go out to Shaq for being Shaq…i agree sometimes he should tone it down some but oh well…do your thing Shaq….i find it entertaining and as much as people complain about it, it gives u something to laugh at and talk about…..right?

Posted by: REALESTVOICE on March 31st, 2008 at 7:43 am

I found your piece on the link from Bethlehem Shoals’ post on Sporting News. I have to say I have been waiting on someone to put something like this out for a decade now, so thanks.

I am from L.A. and I have actually had the chance to spend time amongst Shaq and Kobe. To sum up a long story, Shaq/Kobe’s arrival in 96 coincided with my departure from college, and the launching of my first business, a promotion and marketing company. Through hardwork and dumbluck, we scored a contract with A&M Records. Shaq was launching his TWisM label at the time, and our focus was on entertainment, particularly clothes and music so everything clicked. Because of our company’s ethnic diversity and our ability to launch a brand, we became Shaq’s personal team at A&M. My partners and I were 19, and now had LA’s biggest star as a client, we were stoked. Mind you we are independent contractors, and made our name working with a host of top artists simultaneously, so as big as Shaq is/was, we still had others to service. Shaq though quickly became a pain, the man is larger than life but he would not go anywhere without a full street team arriving before hand to let the crowd know he was coming out. This wasn’t for press and show, we aren’t talking about signings, photo ops, release parties, this was to go out to dinner, to go get his haircut, if our team wasn’t available at all times to assure that his presence was known by everyone prior to arrival, then he would circle the block endlessly, till it was known. Posters, stickers, and picket signs had to be plastered on poles, and carried by all. I’d never met a person with so much fame, who was so identifiable, and yet lacked confidence like this guy. He literally needed to bring his own crowd with him at all times.

The guy has problems, he not only has to feel appreciated at all times, by everyone, but he needs to be worshiped and reminded often of how great and special he is.

We lasted on the Shaq account for as long as his label existed, which wasn’t long, because no amount of work could get that album sold, I was actually happy when it ended even if it meant I lost my hookup on Laker tickets.

Posted by: jt on April 4th, 2008 at 6:57 pm


That’s fascinating stuff, I knew the man had an inferiority complex of sorts despite being one of the most accomplished athletes in NBA history, but I didn’t know it was to such an extent. His psychology would actually be very interesting if he wasn’t so easily reducible to an arrogant, transparent, vindictive and obnoxious idiot man-child.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on April 4th, 2008 at 7:17 pm

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