Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

José Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com New Kings part owner Shaquille O'Neal and principal owner Vivek Ranadive arrive at Zocalo in midtown Sacramento on Monday night.

Ailene Voisin: Will Sac show love for Shaq?

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013 - 12:25 am

Vivek Ranadive, Mark Mastrov, Raj Bhathal, the Jacobs brothers and the zillion other new Kings owners went behind enemy lines and offered shares to one of the best entertainers in the business.

So take a bow, fellas.

Shaquille O'Neal is big news in Sacramento, of course. But Shaq is big everywhere, and not just because he stands 7-foot-1 and weighs in the vicinity of 350 to 400 pounds. His charisma weighs a ton more than that.

They love him in L.A., Orlando, New York, Miami, Central America, Europe, India. Don't forget India, especially now.

But will they love him in Sacramento? Better yet, will they forgive him in Sacramento?

Based on the results of an informal poll – a very limited sample size of six or seven Kingscentric folks contacted Monday – Shaq, who will be re-introduced this morning at the practice facility, is facing a hung jury in the court of public opinion.

One segment of Kings fans is delighted with his arrival and all his oversized baggage. While his specific role and sphere of influence have yet to be defined, who knows what Shaq can do for you?

Among other things, one theory goes, perhaps he can cite his credentials, point to his four championship rings and lighten the mood when the Kings stumble into that first six-game losing streak and a freaked-out Ranadive and the masses (those other 40 or so owners) threaten to fire the general manager, the head coach, the trainer, the support staff and anyone else associated with the color purple.

And who better to challenge, coax, teach and mentor DeMarcus Cousins than the biggest, baddest dude of his generation? The fact he can rap, dance, rhyme and read – O'Neal has a doctoral degree – advances his cause and his case.

Another percentage of fans, however, will never recover from the 2002 Kings-Lakers Western Conference finals, from the way Shaq countered the cowbells and the superior opponent with dunks, rebounds, timely free throws and almost daily verbal darts, several of which struck below the belt.

He renamed the Kings the Queens. He chided the beloved Vlade Divac for flopping. He worked the refs hard, matched Rick Adelman whine for whine in the Game 6 officiating debacle. Then, after emotionally shattering a franchise and a region – and while heaving massive sighs of relief, because the best team did not win that series – he summoned writers to his locker.

He wrote a poem, he said, for Adelman and the Kings. "Don't cry," he recited. "Dry your eyes. Here comes Shaq with his four little guys (teammates)."

And you wonder why in the world Ranadive and Mastrov and those zillion other Kings owners want this guy anywhere near their club or their building, the old one or the new one?

Because he is a hoot. Because he is lovable. Because he is one of the more recognizable figures in the sports world. Because he is smart and, in a goofy sense, sophisticated. And because even his detractors probably know the worst-kept secret in town: that Shaq has always had an affinity for Sacramento.

During the Lakers' frequents visits, their massive center spent his free time at the shooting range with former Sheriff Lou Blanas or schmoozing with folks at downtown restaurants, movie theaters, shops or, more often, while seated in the hotel lobby. He became so fond of the franchise, in fact, so comfortable in a small-market city that reminded him of Orlando, that he contacted the Maloofs when his relationship with the Lakers deteriorated in 2004.

The brothers and Geoff Petrie discussed and debated the possibility of acquiring the veteran center at some length, ultimately declining further talks because of his age (32), his increasing number of injuries and his onerous salary.

"I was very interested," a disappointed O'Neal told me the following season. "I don't know why they didn't come after me harder."

Well, here he comes. To those eagerly awaiting his arrival, hoping that celebrity and credibility are contagious, remember: He's a load. Stay ready.

My advice to the anti-Shaq contingent would be this: Take this for what it is. Entertainment, until we hear otherwise.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208. Follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin



Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Email: avoisin@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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