Former National Basketball Association super center, Shaquille O’Neal, is making an easy transition into a full-time television analyst’s role, as demonstrated during his first assignment chatting up the (hopeful) 2011-2012 season. If you followed his career on and off the basketball court, this should come as no surprise.
O’Neal did all the right things to position himself as a media darling during his professional basketball career. He’s long been friendly and entertaining, and during his days on the hardwood, was willing to dip into entertainment activities that enhanced his brand. From Icy Hot endorsements to “Shaq Vs” episodes, O’Neal engaged with smiles and brought us along for the fun. Ever since he jumped onto the public’s radar as a dominating force at Louisiana State University, O’Neal has made everything he does in public look like it is, borrowing from a song, another day to celebrate.
Professional athletes in all sports stand to learn from O’Neal’s preparation for life after the athletic limelight. I spoke to a few people who worked with O’Neal the basketball player, and they unanimously praised his cooperation and connection with media and fans.
“Shaq rarely saw the media as an enemy,” said Emmy-Award winning sports television producer, Mike Burks. “He enjoyed the back-and-forth reparte with the press and made his point using witty humor instead of angst and anger. While he was known for his incredible size and skill, he’ll be just as remembered as an athlete who had a good time while winning championships.”
Arthur Triche, Vice President of Media Relations for the Atlanta Hawks, said O’Neal was equally as graceful to fans and NBA staff.
“From a sports PR standpoint, all we ask from our players is for them to be respectful and accommodating as best they can to our fans, the media and to us, the employees, while they deal with the pressures of an ever-growing media world,” said Triche, who worked with O’Neal during NBA All-Star events. “Shaq understood this better than most, and he embraced it as he became one of America’s top athletes on and off the court.”
It didn’t take O’Neal to be exposed to the glitz of big-time hoops to realize his potential as a public influence. He knew what he had to do even when he was in college.
“Shaq recognized very early in his career, even when he was at LSU, that there was value in developing a relationship with the media and a value in communications,” said Herb Vincent, Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Senior Associate Athletic Director at LSU. “He knew the importance of managing his image, but he always did it in a very real manner.
“He was never a created image. Shaq is who he is and he is appreciated for being Shaq.”
The message here is that you don’t have to be a 7-footer to recognize your potential when the glory days on the hardwood or field are past. It’s simple — if you treat people with respect regardless of who they are, embrace adventure and be real, there is opportunity and new experiences for all professionals waiting for when that final horn blows.