Shaq Explains Why He’d Struggle To Play At His Best In The NBA’s Bubble Restart

The NBA is steadily approaching its restarted season, with teams expected to make their way to Disney’s Wide World of Sports early in July to start training camp for the planned restart late that month. Shaquille O’Neal will be part of that restart in his analyst role on TNT’s Inside the NBA, and has plenty of thoughts on the challenges facing the players in Orlando.

Shaq spoke with Dime this week on behalf of Krispy Kreme, as he’ll be part of their virtual grand opening on Wednesday for their new line of doughnut bites and mini crullers. We talked about his quest to own more Krispy Kreme franchises, how he can eat three boxes of doughnuts with ease, his many business ventures, the NBA’s restart plan, why he’d struggle to play his best without fans, and why the bubble will be a mental and physical grind for the players.

Last time we really talked was at a Krispy Kreme commercial shoot a few years ago and you said you wanted to own up to 40 or 50 franchises. Have you been able to add some more franchises and how has your partnership with Krispy Kreme grown?

It’s one of my best partnerships ever. We’re in talks about more franchises. We continue to give people the taste that they crave and they want, and we’re on this call today because for the first time ever, Krispy Kreme is going to be available everywhere in America. Krispy Kreme and Walmart are partnering up for the new Doughnut Bites and Mini Crullers available in all Walmarts across the nation — and if you can’t get to a Walmart check out Walmart’s online grocery store. You know, I have one of the most historic stores in Atlanta, that’s the first one to start, and we’re looking to get some more. We’re just talking and, you know, things like this take time. I’ve been trying to get in the Krispy Kreme business since ’93, and it took me awhile to get in. Now that I’m in, it’ll probably take me awhile to get the franchises I crave. In the meanwhile, we’re going to keep giving the people the enjoyment that they need. We’re going to keep coming up with fresh ideas and great partnerships, like the one with Walmart.

You’re participating this Wednesday in the virtual grand opening. How can folks get in on that and what’s that going to be like?

Well, it’ll be on Facebook Live, Wednesday at 7 [p.m. ET]. We’re going to play games with fans across the country and motivate 40 lucky participants, and they’re going to have the chance to compete to win free doughnut bites and mini crullers for a whole year. So we’re just going to have fun.

I’ve gotta ask, what is Shaquille O’Neal’s go-to doughnut order?

My go-to order is three boxes of glazed. When I’m feeling good and haven’t done anything for the day, I can go through three boxes right away. But, listen, I love crullers, I like the chocolate sprinkles — actually I like every doughnut at Krispy Kreme — I can eat a whole box of crullers. But when it comes to Krispy Kreme, I’m an OG that likes OGs. So I like the original glazed, but I can go for the mini bites, the crullers, the chocolate sprinkles. Whatever they have to offer.

We talked previously about how you advise with current athletes a lot about the importance of investing and having off-court ventures. I feel like now that’s something more and more guys think about and work on while still in the league. Is that a legacy you’re proud of, being one of the most prominent athletes-turned-businessman and being an example for these guys on how to build on what you make while an athlete?

I’m not the first, and I’m definitely not the biggest, so I can’t take all the credit. The biggest is Junior Bridgeman. He has some Wendy’s, Pepsi. Second is probably Jordan, third is Magic Johnson, and I’m probably in fourth. But, listen, I got it from those guys and I got it from my upbringing. My father always threw the stat in my face about how guys don’t take care of what they have. We came from a place where we had no money, and he’s like, “Listen, you’re the only one in the family making this money. Make sure you hold onto it, make sure you can be in new things. You don’t want to have it and then let it go and be one of these guys who’s like, ‘I had this, I had this.’ So take care of business.” I gotta thank Magic Johnson, being out here in L.A. and watching him move around, I wanted do things similar to what he was doing.

I do want to get your thoughts on the upcoming NBA restart. What are your thoughts on what they’ve got planned, the format with the 8-game race to the playoffs and the play-in game, and how they’ve come up with this plan in what is obviously a unique and unfortunate situation?

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Very unique. Very unfortunate. It’s going to be trying. It’s not … when people get ready for the playoffs, this is not how they get ready for the playoffs. So to be in the bubble, 30 days, to play in those games, I always try to speak from the standpoint as if I was there, and I can say I would probably not perform at a super high level without any fans. So, the guys are going to play, I don’t know how they’re going to do, but being a former NBA player and a guy that still works at TNT covering the NBA, I’m with the guy whether they wanna play or not want to play. I support them either way and I wish them well. But, for me, it would probably be difficult to play at a high level without seeing my family, my friends, enemies, hecklers, kids, dads and sons, business people. I need to see all that to get pumped up. I need to see my children. I need to see a little kid running behind the bench trying to get an autograph, “Ooh can I get an autograph.” I need to see that. So I wish the guys well, but I know it’s going to be difficult.

I was going to ask how you thought guys will handle being in the bubble, not just without there being fans, but, while there might be some family that’s allowed in at some point, these are guys that are creatures of habit. There’s a routine that they get into, whether they’re on the road or at home. How difficult will that be for these guys to establish that new routine and try to find that high level again?

I think it’s going to be very difficult, because it’s something they haven’t done before. Like you said, routine is key. Shootaround, go home, kiss the babies, kiss the wife, take a nap, wake up, drive your special route to the game. So being in the bubble, you can’t leave and can’t have people coming in, I know it’s going to be difficult for guys. But this is the climate that we’re in now, and if guys want to win their championship they’re going to have to persevere.

From a physical standpoint, guys haven’t been in the gym. This is even more different than what we see in a lockout experience where there’s a hurry to get a season done, but there’s been some gym time. What are the difficulties physically you think guys are going to have and how would you approach balancing making sure your body’s right and making this push for the playoffs?

Well that’s another thing that’s going to be difficult, when you haven’t played organized ball in awhile to just come out and start playing. Some guys are going to have a quicker chance of getting back than other guys. Working out in the gym and lifting weights has nothing to do with basketball. There’s a difference in being in shape and being in basketball shape. And then, there’s no way to emulate playoff basketball. You can get five of your friends and run 1,000 sprints, and you still can’t emulate playoff basketball. I don’t know how long the training camp is, but I’m sure this is going to be the first time guys are playing organized ball together and guys have to adjust quickly. Not only that, but you have to have mental adjustments. Being in that bubble, guys aren’t used to that. So, mental adjustment — not seeing your wife, not seeing your kids, eating the same room service every day — there’s a lot of adjustments you’ve got to make on the fly.

Are there any teams you think this might impact more? Teams that might’ve been finding some form at the time the hiatus started and might have a more difficult time picking back up to that level when we restart?

Anytime you’ve got super high level players and they come in ready, it’s not hard for everybody else to get in sync. But there were a lot of young teams that were starting to gel and look really good. So, it might effect them more than the Lakers or Milwaukee or the Clippers or teams of that nature. Like I said, a lot of teams were starting to gel and play together. Portland I think was starting to make a nice little push. Dame had that streak where he had a few 50-pointers and they were trying to make a push. Sacramento was also trying to make the eight-spot, so it’ll be interesting. I can’t predict what teams are going to do, but it’s just going to be very interesting. I guess whoever is mentally toughest and mentally strongest will advance.