The coronavirus took the world by storm in 2020 and by the time the deadly virus reached the United States, the gravity of the situation was serious when companies started shutting down and states ordered families to stay home. When professional sports were forced to cancel their seasons, it was something fans had never seen before. Now that games have found a way to move forward despite the pandemic still hovering as a dark cloud, new rules and protocols — including limited or no fans at events — have made for a very strange sporting experience.
In an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com, NBA star Shaquille O'Neal said had he been playing during a pandemic, he thinks the absence of fans in the stands would have played a role in his game simply because fans bring an element of energy to the court that players need to push even harder. "I think it would have," he said. "It was a lot of times being down by 10, 15, the fans and their involvement and their engagement gave us the extra energy slash adrenaline to perform at a high level."
While fans' cheers helped pump O'Neal up in times of need, he admitted that he felt it was his "duty" to show up every game and give his them what they paid for. "I was always a guy that would go in and just look for dads and their sons, dads and their daughters, families, school kids, guys that pay a lot of money to come watch me play, and I felt it was my duty to put on a show for them. So without having people in the stands I think it would have been very hard."
The former Lakers player had a long-running successful career in the NBA, starting with being the first overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft, landing his first professional spot with the Orlando Magic. He eventually moved on to the Los Angeles Lakers after four years in Orlando, then went on to play for other teams like Boston, Cleveland and Phoenix before retiring in 2011.
Now, the 48-year-old is a sports analyst for Inside the NBA and says switching from being a professional player to someone in broadcast, he admits there are times he gets "flack" from players for his honest thoughts, but says it's "part of the business." When asked if his perspective on broadcasting has changed since his years as a professional athlete, he said, "Let's keep it real. We're not as professional as people that have broadcast and journalism degrees. We're there for knowledge and the fact that we have experience in playing the game that journalists and reporters are talking about."
He then went on to detail that sometimes he gets "flack from the player[s] for saying what I feel I should say but they need to know and understand that I had a G14 classification to say whatever it is." He ended by noting, "[...] They need to know and understand that I know what they're going through and I know what they've been through and I know where they are trying to go."
Since his years in the NBA, O'Neal has gone on to do a number of things, showing off his talents in movies, shows, music and philanthropy. One thing he's known for is his commercials with The General and says he linked with them because he was an actual consumer of their product and wanted people to know that despite what their commercials have looked like in the past, they're a quality insurance company. "I've been working with The General for a long time and I've always known that they're a quality insurance company," adding that it's his "goal" to help others understand that as well. O'Neal recently starred in their latest commercial that includes actor/comedian Craig Robinson and O'Neal's co-host from Inside the NBA, Kenny Smith, providing a refreshing new ad look for viewers.