People ought not believe a man is serious when he builds an apology in words wrapped around modifiers. Such must be our reaction to the apology Shaquille O’Neal issued Friday about leaving the Orlando Magic in ’96 before he took the franchise to an NBA title.
Perhaps Shaq’s euphoria over the franchise’s decision to induct him into its Hall of Fame got him to admit he should have stuck around Orlando longer than four seasons.
Of course, you can’t know whether the blabbering Shaq is being disingenuous or playing it straight. He’s an athlete to be trusted about as much as a loan shark, used-car salesman or congressman.
So when he tells the world he was wrong to leave Orlando for Los Angeles and all its Hollywood glitz, people have to wonder if words like his are honest or just revisionist history.
“I actually wish they made it a law that whoever drafts you, you gotta stay there your whole career," he said.
Nothing in those 19 words gives you assurance that Shaq meant them. He was in a situation in which he couldn’t say much else. For in front of an Orlando crowd last Friday night inside the Amway Center to honor his Hall of Fame induction, he had little choice but to rave about his short career in a Magic uniform.
“We had a young, fabulous team,” O'Neal told the media. “We really did. And it’s a shame that we got torn apart. But I think about that all the time. I try not to live my life now on ‘ifs’ or ‘would’ve,’ ‘should've,’ but do I regret leaving here in ’96, yes I do.”
A man’s regrets can’t be too real when he walks away for the glamour and the spotlight that Hollywood provides him. As Shaq himself admitted, he made a business decision, and the business of basketball is money – lots of it.
Shaq left town for 121 million reasons, for the nightlife of Hollywood and for the promotional opportunities that L.A. offered but Orlando did not.
“I thought that if I go there, with those guys out there, I could win right away and that wasn't the case,” Shaq said. “Now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster I would have had more patience.”
He was impatient. And selfish, too.
Back in 1996, he proved both immature and impetuous. Now, he’s shown the sort of imprecision in his choice of words that we’d heard Mike Tyson utter when he was wild and young – and knocking out anybody who got into the ring with him to fight for a title.
Shaq was the same kind of heavyweight. He left Orlando to win titles of his own, and he got a fistful with coach Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. No reason now for Shaq to run away from what made him see L.A. as more attractive than Orlando.
He should stand behind his actions. What he shouldn’t do, however, is stand in front of an arena filled with Orlando fans and tell them he didn’t dump their title aspirations in the toilet.
Regrets about it? Listen to Shaq, he says he has regrets sometimes. But his regrets should have come long before now; they should have come when he could have pulled on a Magic uniform, taken the floor and led Orlando to a championship.
All he can do now is launch a PR campaign that he hopes will convince Orlando fans his apology is sincere. Shaq’s campaign will probably succeed, because people want so much to believe the unbelievable when it comes from a person they used to cheer for.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Mark Davis/Getty Images)
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