SACRAMENTO (AFP) – Shaquille O’Neal, a four-time NBA champion who retired in 2011, has become a part owner of the Sacramento Kings, a rival club he derisively dubbed the “Queens” back in 2002.
Indian businessman Vivek Ranadive, a software company founder who became the owner of the NBA Kings in May for a record $534 million after the team appeared set to move to Seattle, confirmed the move on a Twitter posting.
“Join me in welcoming @SHAQ to the @SacramentoKings! Only one way to go from here!” Ranadive tweeted.
O’Neal’s minority stake in the club gives the former Los Angeles Lakers superstar 7-foot-1 center a new nickname to go alongside dozens of others such as “The Big Aristotle” and “The Big Shaqtus” he coined in his career — “The Big Owner.”
O’Neal has been talking with DeMarcus Cousins, the young Kings big man, in the past few months after finishing his season stint as an NBA television commentator.
Having been a thorn in the side of the Kings during championship playoff runs by the Lakers in 2000-2002, O’Neal told USA Today the Kings can only get better after going 28-54 last season, in part because of a deal with the California capital for a new arena.
“Once that new arena comes, once that new downtown is up, once we have a conversation with the players and get everybody to step up, they’ll be knocking on the door,” O’Neal said.
“Hopefully Vivek, with (fellow part-owner Mark) Mastrov and myself and the team and organization can get it back to where it used to be. I’m telling you these new plans, you are going to be like, ‘Sacramento is doing what?’ That’s what we want people to say. What interested me in this deal is the new vision, the new Kings, the new everything. I’ve always wanted to be part of something like this. … It’s going to be great,” he added.
The move comes after ESPN ranked the Kings the worst of 122 combined teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and NBA, based upon the team’s mediocre attendance and seven consecutive seasons of having missed the playoffs.
“Hey ESPN, Nice Airball” reads the opening message on the Kings’ website.