Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Shaquille O’Neal brings pizzaz to arena drive

As publicity stunts go, this one achieved maximum impact: Shaquille O’Neal blew into town as the unlikeliest of new Kings owners – a jaw dropper since O’Neal was the rival player most responsible for preventing a Kings championship a decade ago. He also infamously coined the phrase “Sacramento Queens” to mock the local team. But on Tuesday, O’Neal had attracted one of the best attended news conferences in recent memory and hoisted the first lady of California over his head.

Yeah, strange bedfellows.

I was still shaking my head from the Shaq show at the Kings practice facility Tuesday when suddenly there it was on Twitter. A shot showed O’Neal lifting Anne Gust Brown – the brilliant and powerful wife of Gov. Jerry Brown – like a paperweight over his head at a power dinner hosted by the new Kings owners at Zocalo in midtown. O’Neal had a huge smile on his face in the photo. The first lady? Uh, well, you couldn’t see her face.

It had to go down as one of the most incongruous images of a California first lady ever – and was happily tweeted on the official @annebgust Twitter account with the words: “Shaq gives me a lift!”

It’s hard to imagine the governor being amused by any of this since he doesn’t seem amused by anything. It’s hard to imagine the opponents of a Kings arena being amused, either.

Their time may be up. O’Neal’s arrival typified the unrelenting momentum behind the new Kings ownership to remake a franchise almost killed by its previous owners – and to build a downtown arena with more than $200 million in public funds. Just consider how all the Kings horses and all the Kings men (and women) are now on the same team as Shaq.

Business, labor, and politicos from both sides of the aisle are united. The California Legislature couldn’t get a big overhaul of California environmental laws passed, but the regulations were tweaked to prevent pesky lawsuits from derailing the Sacramento arena that Shaq now wants. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, pulled the strings like a master on that one.

Think the governor won’t sign on? There he was at Zocalo with Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and Shaq at a big and happy table. Can we presume tequila made an appearance? We saw a whole new side of the first lady while Shaq and the Kings seem to have matters well in hand.

On Tuesday, they gave a sneak peek of their vision of the new arena – “an indoor/outdoor” building billed as a dynamic public space instead of a big box taking up blocks of prime real estate. If it works, you’ll be able to make all your arena transactions – food, drink, foam fingers – with your smartphone. Ranadive said the Kings’ first game will be broadcast live in India, where he was born and one of the biggest untapped foreign markets for the NBA. “We want to rejuvenate Sacramento,” said O’Neal as Ranadive beamed.

They seemed unstoppable.