Shaq's Reality TV Debut: The Next Cleveland Heartbreak?

Dan DelagrangeCorrespondent IJuly 24, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 15:  Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Phoenix Suns looks on against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA game on March 15, 2009 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

This week, Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O’Neal will begin filming his new reality television show, “Shaq Vs.”

The program, which will premiere on ABC August 18, centers on O’Neal competing against various professional athletes in their respective sports.

By highlighting such an extroverted, in-your-face personality like O’Neal’s, the show should give viewers at least a mildly entertaining, funny product while giving me a reason to watch ABC prime time programming at least once this calendar year.

Being born and raised in Cleveland, I long ago developed an inner response to any positive or even neutral news/events/happenings concerning my Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers.

Every generation of Clevelanders has its share of monumentally heart-shattering and depressing sports moments, ranging from the Indians’ debacle in the late innings of game seven of the 1997 World Series to former Cavaliers All-Star forward Shawn Kemp, well, being Shawn Kemp.

The negatives far outweigh the positives; so much so, that we northeastern Ohioans subconsciously train ourselves to expect the worst out of any situation, a condition I like to call the Cleveland Reflex. Aside from anomalies like LeBron James and Grady Sizemore, the Cleveland Reflex usually doesn’t let us down.

Upon learning of O’Neal’s plans to challenge some of the world’s best athletes in their own sports, my Cleveland Reflex went into overdrive.

A virtual montage of mortifying scenarios played in my mind: O’Neal ripping some kind of crucial ligament while dropping back in a passing gauntlet against Ben Roethlisberger, tearing an abdominal muscle in batting practice with Albert Pujols or getting terribly annoying swimmer’s ear while racing Michael Phelps.

O’Neal has stated that his reality TV debut will help him train for the upcoming basketball season, but I can’t help thinking both he and the Cavaliers’ chances at an NBA championship won’t come out of this unscathed.

Am I overreacting? Probably, but it’s during the seemingly innocuous moments (see: LeCharles Bentley) like “Shaq Vs.” that colossal Cleveland heartbreak looms most menacingly.

The Cavaliers are Cleveland’s only legitimate hope of a major sports title within the next decade. After seeing the progress the team made last season, the addition of O’Neal keeps the Cavs in the NBA’s elite for at least another season.

With O’Neal, the Cavs become bigger, stronger and can throw varying lineups at opponents. O’Neal fills the Cavs’ need for frontcourt size and strength and should help them handle big, physical teams like Boston and Orlando.

It’s also my belief that with O’Neal in the fold, the Cavaliers are the most dangerous team in the league and the favorites to win it all in 2010 (I just jinxed them, didn’t I?).

The fact that O’Neal was acquired for two wonderfully mediocre players, a draft pick and some cash makes the deal and the state of the Cavalier franchise seem too good to be true. It’s this kind of thinking that builds the viciousness of the inevitable disaster into a soul-sucking, joy-killing monster.

Just when things seem to be making a turn for the better for Cleveland sports, the Cleveland Reflex gives each of its victims a personal preview of the eventual plummet into failure.

It’s safe to say that I’m worried about the Cavs’ newest superstar, even if my uneasiness is founded in a bit of superstition and irrationality. But in Cleveland, the city of heartbreak, the home of The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Red Right 88, and countless others, the nonsensical worry is a way of life.

Shaq, please be careful.