HANOVER, Md. — “Is that Shaq?”
It’s the kind of question that, normally, when asked about a celebrity from amid the slot machines at a non-Las Vegas casino, would be brushed off with a scoff.
But the quantity of viable Shaquille O’Neal doppelgängers, well, really, anywhere in the world, is awfully spare.
So it was that the answer was, yes, indeed, that was Shaq, here at Live! Casino in Hanover Thursday night, to compete in, of all things, a free throw shooting contest against real estate mogul David Cordish.
It was a promotion designed to attract attention and people to a casino. Of course, it was all a bit silly and over-the-top. But it was also more fun than it had any reason to be.
Before the spectacle, O’Neal fielded questions about anything and everything, though he played coy at times.
He didn’t want to talk about the Lavar Ball dis-track (“I have no idea what you’re talking about”). He didn’t want to talk about Donald Trump (“I don’t talk about politics”).
But he offered his opinion about LeBron James and the speculation that he might come to Shaq’s former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the 2018 offseason.
“I know LeBron, and I think it’s pretty confident to say that he’ll stay at home,” Shaq said. “He’s in a very unique position — his legacy is already set. Whether he does good or bad, his legacy is set.”
If that seems surprising, his reasoning may raise your eyebrows even more.
“I don’t want to say it was a mistake, but I had a 60,000 square foot house in Orlando, and I left it,” he said. “If I had it all over to do again, I probably would have stayed, or came back.”
O’Neal also explained the reason that he and especially his co-host on Turner Sports’ NBA coverage, Charles Barkley, have doubted the Golden State Warriors, despite three straight NBA Finals appearances and two titles.
“They defied a longtime myth: And the myth for us, as big guys, was ‘you live by the jumper, you die by the jumper.’ When we preach that, people think it’s coming from a place of hate,” he said.
As for his own shooting, O’Neal was always known as a particularly brutal free throw shooter (making 58 percent for his career), making Thursday’s spectacle against the 77 year-old Cordish something less than a one-sided affair.
Donning a polo shirt and jeans, less than optimal basketball wear, one wondered exactly how long it had been since O’Neal, who retired in 2011, had actually shot a free throw under any kind of pressure.
“Last week was my first time coaching my son in AAU, and we won the championship, I had a free throw contest against those guys,” he explained. “I haven’t shot a ball in a while.”
When it was time for the festivities to begin, teams of four were chosen off the casino floor, the members set to receive $300 each for every made free throw from their respective shooter. O’Neal and Cordish traded off rounds of two shots each, three rounds apiece from the stripe on the makeshift half court in the Center Stage venue. Each followed the same make/miss pattern: make, miss, make, miss, miss, miss.
With the score tied 2-2 after six shots, each took one final shot, for a chance for their team members to win $1,000. Neither disappointed.
In the end, O’Neal hit just three of seven shots, but came away a hero, which all sounds just about right.
And, hey, he and Cordish tied. Perhaps we’ll see this all again someday, if there’s a rematch in store.
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