Best Sports Celebrity - 2008
Suns Center Shaquille O'Neal
We know, we know . . . Shaquille O'Neal is over the hill, or certainly he's crested the top of it and is heading down. Still, he's got a lot of gas left in the ol' tank, and he proved it during the 2007-08 season, producing double-figure points and rebounds in most games. What do you naysayers expect the Big Aristotle to do? He's not going to be the high-scoring, stellar-rebounding monster he was back in his L.A. Lakers championship days. He's not even at the level he was when he and Dwyane Wade brought an unexpected championship to the Miami Heat. But he's a boost to the team, not only because he's a great role player but because he's a great role model. Not to the kids (that genie movie aside) but to his Suns teammates. They desperately need a champion in their midst — a guy who knows how it feels to be at the top and win rings and championship trophies (four of them).
But Shaq's more than just an inspiration; he's a celebrity. Look at that big grin; look at his antics on and off the court. He's strictly showbiz, from his sprinting ahead of his speedy teammates to prove that he's fit, to diving for balls in the stands (and having impromptu conversations with fans) to refusing to accept Spurs star Tim Duncan's help off the floor after a hard foul. Shaq's out in the community doing charity work, and he's volunteering with the Tempe Police Department to keep his law enforcement chops current.
Whether he's acting (and we use the term loosely), clowning around with teammates and fans or just grinning at the camera after reciting one of his raps (remember this one after the Lakers were pulverized by the Celtics in this year's championship: "You know how I be/Last week Kobe couldn't do without me/I call myself big, but I'm not as good as Biggie/I call myself big 'cause I live next to Diddy/Excuse me, Diddy lives next to me/So in the hood, dog, I feel like B.I.G."), the man now called the Big Cactus is just a pleasure to have in Sand Land. And now that dunderheaded Coach Mike D'Antoni and his failed fast-paced offense are no more, we may be very glad to have an entertaining veteran on the floor. Another thing we desperately want to believe is that he means it when he says he will win another NBA title with the Suns.