Shaq Dives Into Why He Thinks Russell Westbrook Was ‘Showing Too Much Respect’ Last Season

A lot has happened during the 2022 NBA offseason. Fortunately, we’re a few weeks away from the start of training camp, and we’re a little more than a month away from the start of the regular season. The focus is no longer on rumors and trades — instead, it’s going to be about the game of basketball, and like all of us, Shaquille O’Neal cannot wait to see what the upcoming year has in store.

Shaq will, of course, be a pretty constant presence during this upcoming campaign through his work with the Inside the NBA crew. But before that, Shaq, who has a claim for being the world’s most prominent endorser of things, is teaming up with Papa John’s, Mountain Dew, and NBA 2K to bring gamers the MTN DEW NBA 2K23 Player’s Pack Bundle, which gives gamers the opportunity to get up to $1 million in gear in the latest NBA 2K release with the purchase of a large, 3-topping pizza and a 20 oz Dew.

Dime caught up with Shaq to discuss the promotion, Steph Curry, the Lakers, the Nets, and more.

I want to start by asking what do you have going on with Papa John’s and Mountain Dew?

Well, I’m partnering with Papa John’s and Mountain Dew to create the ultimate — and I mean the ultimate — gaming bundle. We’re giving fans a chance to win $1 million worth of in-game swag. Listen, $1,000’s a lot, $10,000’s a lot, but $1 million? Me personally, I don’t even know what to do with all that. Just in time for the NBA 2K23 drop, nothing better than eating large 3-topping pizzas, 20 ounce Mountain Dew, and playing NBA 2K with your friends, talking smack, betting money, betting slices. Last time I did that was when there was a UFC event, my son came by the house and he was talking about — because he’s a shooter and I’m not a shooter — he was like, the only place you hit threes is on NBA 2K. And I was like, you can’t beat me, and he kind of dusted me off because this generation, it’s kind of what they do. But we have fun. I know a lot of people have fun. But my favorite part is that million dollars worth of in-game swag.

So I need to ask, I know you just mentioned it — have you ever been a video game guy or are basketball and your business ventures always just taking up too much time over the years?

I used to play it a lot. I’m gonna be honest with you, I don’t play that much now. But whenever we do charity events for kids, it’s always an NBA 2K gaming station and I play the kids. Like I said, last time I played with last UFC event, Usman vs. Edwards. So we had that. But I love the technology of NBA 2K23. I’ve actually been a part of the game, Ernie, Kenny, and myself. We take countless hours, weeks, months at a time laying down those things. And it’s quite interesting how they have a scenario for what we are about to say. So like, they just come in and say, alright, I read these lines, but how do you get these lines, because algorithmically, they already know what’s gonna happen. So, when you’re playing as Steph Curry and you shoot a three, oh my God, he’s Stephalicious. I’ll say something and Kenny will say something, it’s just amazing how they do that.

NBA season is right around the corner. It seems like the big stuff in the summer is mostly done, who are the teams that you’re most interested and excited to watch once the season starts up?

I’m anxious to see if Golden State can run it back, anxious to see if Brooklyn can get their stuff together, anxious to see if LeBron passes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in points, anxious to see if the Lakers can get themselves together, anxious to see who the Rookie of the Year is. Good thing about sports is, especially with the fans, we don’t care what you did last year, that’s over. But this year, Lakers, Golden State. That’s the good thing about sports, like, Golden State is the champs, but once October 18 comes around, nobody cares about that. That was last year, what are you gonna do this year? So it’ll be interesting, as usual.

On the topic of Golden State, I want to ask a couple questions about Steph. I know you’ve said over and over he’s your favorite player. What is it that makes him so unique? Is it his game, his approach to basketball, how he carries himself, whatever it might be?

Because there’s no one like him. People remember Shaq, there was no one like him. He’s one of those players — Mike, Kobe, LeBron, nobody like them. He has his own category: Best shooter ever. Not one of the best shooters, not Ray Allen, not Reggie Miller, he is the best shooter ever. I’m in a category, but there’s another name that you have to mention: Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant ever. I’m fine with that. But in his category, he’s by himself. Greatest player ever, 10 people in that category.

So, the fact that he has his own category and nobody’s even close, and nobody’s even coming close, that should tell you a lot. Then if you look at him, he still looks like a little kid. That’s what amazes me the most — Jordan was big, Kobe was big, Bron is big. If you saw Steph in the grocery store and you didn’t know who he was, you’d just think he was a regular guy food shopping. And so the fact that he plays and dominates all those big guys, I’m amazed by that, he can just get his shot off anytime. I love that, I’m jealous of that, I wish I could shoot like that.

Are there any other guys who you think have the capability to have their own category where they’re the best in the league, who have the potential to one day get there and be your favorite player behind Steph?

Their own category? No. There’s a lot of players that can be in categories that already exist. When I was coming up, the greatest never mattered to me because there was too many options. I’m psycho, I want to be up there by myself. So, I was kind of upset, because I only needed to average 10 points my last year to pass Wilt Chamberlain. I was going to arrogantly say, I’m the most dominant ever. I don’t want to hear Wilt’s name again. Wilt has two, I got four, and I passed him up in points, there you go, and oh yeah, Wilt averaged 50 during a season, but guess what, I still passed him up. I wanted to have that. But that was me and him, I’m cool with that. Giannis, of course, you’re gonna have to move him in one of the greatest, Kevin Durant, move him in a category, Reggie Miller, one of the greatest shooters, LeBron, move him in the category of the greatest ever, but to have that category by yourself? No, there is no other guys that can do it.

Laker legend, I want to ask about the Lakers and your general thoughts on their summer. It feels like so much of it is “if LeBron and Anthony Davis stay healthy, they’re going to be okay.” Do you agree with that, or do you think they still need more to get to where they want to go?

Yes, LeBron and AD stay healthy, they’ll be okay. But in order to be championship quality, they need to pieces around them. Pat Beverley is a good piece, he’s a defensive piece. Russ, I don’t know what he’s gonna do, I don’t know how they’re going to use him. But they need some dogs like Beverley, they need some rebounders, and they need some shooters. That’s all you need. It’s not rocket science. You need a floor leader, someone that’s gonna dominate consistently, every night, you need a knockdown shooter, and you need a guy that’s gonna ruffle some feathers. That’s it. That’s how you win a championship.

And so much of the attention this summer seems like it’s on Russ and what his role is if he stays. As someone who played at a very high level for a long time, how does a guy who’s a former MVP, who is used to such a huge role, accept aging gracefully in the league?

I don’t think it was his age. I think he was just, and I say this respectfully, I just think he was showing too much respect. I don’t care who I’m playing with it, I’m giving you 28. Fans pay a lot of money for me to make $100 million, I’m giving you 28. It’s not, “every time I get the ball, look for the other stars,” he can play, too, so when I got the ball, I’m gonna do my thing. I can’t do my thing, I’m looking for him. That’s how you got to play. You just can’t concede all the time — here, here, here. Nah, throw me the ball, let me go to work. I gotta average 28 and 15 for personal reason and for these fans.

He was just being too nice. I don’t know the relationship between him and LeBron, but if you put that down on paper and I don’t know nothing about basketball, that’s a hell of a backcourt, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Why it didn’t work, I don’t know, but watching him play, he was super passive. I don’t need you to be passive, I need you to play your game. I’ll be calling plays, when you get the ball after they miss a shot, run, if you ain’t got nothin, pull it out, give it to LeBron, and call some plays. That’s how it was me, he was just thinking too much. He’s a guy that, when he plays freely, he’s a monster.

My last question is about the Nets, but it’s specifically about Steve Nash and everything that happened around him this summer. He’s coming back to lead them — with what you know about Steve as a guy who was teammates with him for a bit, do you think he can navigate going back to coaching this team like normal?

Before I answer the question, I’m gonna tell you a little story. A guy asked me the other day, “you ever think about coaching?” And the answer is no. He said why? When a guy makes 20 times more than you, it’s gonna be hard for them to respect you. It shows that they don’t respect him. All the “I want him gone, I want him gone,” and then to come back and say we worked it out, nah, it ain’t that easy. As adults, we can have a heart-to-heart, we can iron it out. But it’s still right here. So when things don’t go right, they’re gonna blame it on him. So, he’s gonna have to demand their respect. As a player, if you know you were better than a former player who’s now a coach, it’s gonna be hard for you to, in tough situations, listen to him. So, it’s gonna be tough. I know the coaches I played for, they put their foot down. Sometimes you got to put your foot down, even if the player makes a $50 million, you got to put your foot down, especially 8f they ain’t gonna step up, anyway.