Shaq to the Future: Retired NBA Star Joins Barkley, TNT

Big man brings skills to an already overstuffed “Inside the NBA”

Shaq Fu is coming to TNT.

Retired NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal on Thursday announced he was joining the analysts on TNT’s Inside the NBA program, where he’ll work alongside basketball’s senior-ranking iconoclast, Charles Barkley.

A four-time NBA champion and a 15-time All-Star, O’Neal said he looked forward to propping up the desk with Barkley, Kenny Smith and host Ernie Johnson.

“I know it will work out very well,” O’Neal said. “The good thing about this show is that everybody has his own opinion. Kenny’s a guard, so he has the guard’s opinion; Charles is a forward, he has the forward’s opinion. My opinion comes from the center’s point of view.”

A media-savvy early adopter––O’Neal joined Twitter in November 2008; since then he has amassed 4.04 million followers––the 7’ 1” baller is universally renowned for his goofy off-court demeanor and playful interaction with the press. Kids love him because he’s a gentle giant, although the teddy bear act dissolved whenever he laced up his size-23 Reeboks.

O’Neal’s interactions with Barkley should make for some memorable TV. Utterly devoid of an internal censor, Sir Charles leavens his commentary with acerbic one-liners about physical appearances (“I love Sam Cassell, but he does look like E.T.”), race relations (“You the boss, Ernie. White guy’s always the boss.”) and his personal life. Barkley regularly talks up his gambling habit, post-NBA weight gain and his enthusiasm for beer, threading such stream-of-consciousness observations through his astute commentary.

O’Neal is similarly unrestrained, going so far as to poke fun at himself this afternoon for his starring role in the execrable kids’ film, Kazaam, in which he played a genie who lives inside a magic boombox.

According to O’Neal, while ESPN/ABC Sports also had shown some interest in retaining his services, the decision to join the TNT team was a no-brainer.

“I was very blessed to have other people come after me, this was an easy decision,” O’Neal said. “I felt Turner and TNT was the best fit for me.”

Along with his new role on TNT’s studio show, O’Neal also will contribute to NBA TV and NBA.com. He also has a provision in his contract for a development deal with Turner Broadcasting’s entertainment and animation divisions. 

Beyond his forays into cinema, O’Neal has a fair amount of TV experience, starring in ABC’s 2009-10 competition strip, Shaq Vs., and the 2005 ESPN docuseries Shaquille, among other projects.

While Barkley said he was eager to begin working with the new hire, there was a time when the two men were on less than cordial terms. In 1999, O’Neal hacked Barkley under the boards and the Round Mound of Rebound responded by bouncing the ball off the big man’s skull.

Punches were thrown, but the much smaller Barkley was able to wrestle O’Neal to the ground before any real damage could be done.

The two have sense become good friends. In an August 2010 episode of Shaq Vs., O’Neal and Barkley challenged each other to a memorably inept––and hilarious––round of golf.

The only question that remains is whether there will be an NBA season to be analyzed in the first place. The league locked out its players on July 1 and most observers fear the labor crisis will extend well into the regular season.

“Hopefully, it doesn’t last long,” O’Neal said. “The only people who suffer in this lockout situation are the fans. … Hopefully, the powers that be can have an intelligent conversation and [work out] a constructive deal that doesn’t hurt the fans.”