You wouldn’t know it from reading the newspaper or watching local TV news, but we really don’t need Shaquille O’Neal to validate Sacramento as a great city and a great place to live.
Last week, local journalists went into paroxysms of ecstasy over the fact that O’Neal has bought an interest in the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association. Just how much interest, we have not been told.
The more likely answer is that the new owners have bought his name, rather than vice versa.
But unless Shaq plans to suit up, I can’t see how that makes any difference to the Kings’ NBA title hopes next season.
The way the local news media has treated his arrival, however, reminds me of the embarrassing and pathetic Sally Field speech when she won the Oscar a few years ago: “You like me, you really like me.”
Shaq loves us, he really loves us. Wow, that’s a far cry from all the hatred directed his way by Kings fans when he once referred to the Kings as “the Sacramento Queens,” never mind the homophobic slur implicit in that remark.
For two nights in a row, KCRA, supposedly the top-rated TV station in town for news, led with enthusiastic triple-team coverage, little more than free advertising for selling Kings tickets, and The Bee had the news on front page and weighed in with an editorial and another story and column on the sports page.
To its credit, The Bee did raise the question in its tongue-in-cheek editorial about why anyone would want Shaq as a face of the franchise, given that his face “includes a rather large mouth known to open and say almost anything.”
We are talking about a basketball player here, folks, and one, no matter how charismatic he might be, strikes me as for sale to the highest bidder. Sell cars, sell the Kings. What’s the difference? Why the new owners of the Kings felt they needed his stamp of approval is a mystery to me.
Let’s face it. It is fun having a professional basketball team in town, but that should never be confused with Sacramento’s identity. I’ve always been amused by the people who proclaim that the Kings “put Sacramento on the map.” As far as I know, the capital of the country’s biggest and, arguably, most important state has always been “on the map,” with no help from overpaid and often underachieving basketball players.
And there it was again in Wednesday’s paper, O’Neal saying a new arena would put Sacramento on the map.
We’re supposed to be grateful for the chance to pay exorbitant ticket prices, dine on overpriced food and drink and appreciate the privilege of using tax money to build an arena for the benefit of millionaire owners and millionaire players. Get real.
Sacramento is a city of trees. We have two great rivers, enormous recreational opportunities, scores of excellent restaurants, a world-class medical school (UC Davis) and a lifestyle that is, or should be, the envy of equivalent-size cities all across this country.
As time goes on, whether the Kings are here to stay or to eventually leave, that’s not going to change.
O’Neal’s role with the team appears to be twofold. One job will be to pump up support for the proposed downtown arena and head off a public vote on the issue. Failing that, he no doubt will play a key role in any upcoming campaign. His other job, apparently, is to mentor the petulant DeMarcus Cousins, a fellow big man who is badly in need of an attitude adjustment. Good luck with that.
William Endicott is a former deputy managing editor for The Sacramento Bee.