Either forgiveness is in the air, or this is basketball's version of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Both sides of one of the NBA's best rivalries of the early 2000s—former Los Angeles Lakers great Shaquille O'Neal and the Sacramento Kings—have come together in a partnership that can only be described as unlikely.
Shaq led the Lakers to three straight postseason series wins over the Kings from 2000 to 2002. Now, the TNT analyst will be lending his leadership skills to the franchise that he liked to refer to as the "Queens."
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, O'Neal has purchased a minority stake in the Sacramento-based franchise. Amick reports that O'Neal will meet with the team's players and coaches before having dinner with DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings' burgeoning superstar.
Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press reports that O'Neal's partnership with Sacramento will be officially forged on Tuesday:
Shaq will be introduced as part of the Sacramento Kings ownership group at 1pm ET tomorrow. #CanYouDigIt— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) September 23, 2013
The Kings will introduce @SHAQ as a member of the ownership group tomorrow. Guess he'll see DeMarcus Cousins for sure.— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) September 23, 2013
O'Neal told Amick that his checkered past with the franchise was nothing more than his understanding of the entertainment aspect of sports:
(The Lakers and Kings) did have some great battles, and fans need to understand that those ("Sacramento Queens") comments that I made and all that stuff, it was for them... I've always been an expert at marketing, so a Laker vs. Sacramento Kings, I wanted it to be the most watched game ever.
This move is just the latest in what has become the summer of change in Sacramento.
New majority owner Vivek Ranadive purchased a controlling share of the team at an NBA record valuation of $534 million in May. Since then, Sacramento has revamped the front office (starting with general manager Pete D'Alessandro), the coaching staff (head coach Michael Malone) and the roster (with rookies Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum and veterans Greivis Vasquez, Carl Landry and Luc Mbah a Moute).
O'Neal told Amick he likes the direction this franchise is headed and thinks the future is very bright in Sacramento:
Right now, (the Kings are) down, and they have new ownership, and we're going to bring it back up. It's going to be beautiful. It's going to be a destination place that people want to see.
While his biggest impact on the franchise may eventually be his role in Cousins' development, Shaq's marketing skills are already apparent. In some very colorful words, he told Amick that the Kings' plans for a new arena are impressive:
I've seen the (arena) plans... I don't know if they've talked to you about the plans, but woo–wee. That's all I can say: woo-wee. Oh, you know what, that's our new slogan: 'Sacramento: woo-wee.'
O'Neal and the Kings working together as one? Woo-wee, indeed.