Russell Westbrook showed “a lot of respect” last year

A lot has happened during the 2022 NBA season. Fortunately, we’re a few weeks away from the start of boot camp, and we’re still just over a month away from the start of the regular season. The focus is no longer on rumors and deals – instead, it will be about the basketball game, and like all of us, Shaquille O’Neal can’t wait to see what the next year has in store.

Shaq will, of course, be a constant presence during this upcoming campaign through his work with Inside the NBA crew. But before that, Shaq, who claims to be the world’s leading proponent of the stuff, is teaming up with Papa John’s, Mountain Dew, and NBA 2K to bring players the MTN DEW NBA 2K23 player pack, giving players the chance to get up to $1 million in gear in the latest release From NBA 2K with the purchase of a large 3-piece pizza and 20 oz. dew.

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

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

Well, I’m partnering with Papa John’s and Mountain Dew to create the definitive—and I mean by that—game package. We’re giving fans a chance to win $1 million in in-game gifts. Listen, $1000 a lot, $10,000 a lot, but $1 million? Personally, I don’t even know what to do with all that. Just in time for NBA 2K23 Drop, nothing is better than eating a large 3-piece, 20-ounce Mountain Dew pizza, playing NBA 2K with your friends, talking out loud, betting money, and betting chips. The 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 a three is in the NBA 2K. And I was like, you can’t beat me, and it kind of flicked me off because this generation, it’s kind of what they do. But we have fun. I know a lot of people are having fun. But my favorite part is the million dollar worth of in-game gifts.

So I need to ask, I know you just mentioned that – have you ever been a video game player or have been playing basketball and your business projects have always taken a lot of time over the years?

I used to play it a lot. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t play much right now. But when we do children’s charity events, it’s always the NBA 2K gaming station and I play the kids. Like I said, the last time I played was with the last UFC event, Usman vs Edwards. So we had it. But I love technology NBA 2K23. You were already part of the game, me, Ernie, and Kenny. We take countless hours, weeks, and months at a time to put these things together. It’s interesting how they have a script for what we’re about to say. So, they come in and say, OK, I’ve read these lines, but how do you get these lines, because mathematically they already know what’s going to happen. So, when you play Steve Curry and shoot Three, oh my goodness, it’s Stefalicious. I’ll say something and Kenny will say something, it’s amazing how they do that.

The NBA season is just around the corner. The big errands in the summer seem to be mostly done, so who are the teams you are most interested in and excited to watch once the season starts?

I’m curious to see if Golden State can bring it back, anxious to see if Brooklyn can get their stuff together, anxious to see if LeBron passes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the points, anxious to see if the Lakers can get themselves together, anxious to see who it is general newbie. The good thing about sports, especially with the fans, we don’t care what you did last year, it’s over. But this year, the Lakers, the Golden State. That’s the good thing about sports, like Golden State are the champions, but once October 18th, no one cares about that. That was last year, what are you going to do this year? So it will be fun as usual.

On the subject of Golden State, I’d like to ask a few questions about Steph. I know you said over and over he’s your favorite player. What makes it so unique? Is it his game, his basketball style, how he carries himself, no matter what?

Because there is no one like him. People remember Shaq, there was no one like him. He’s one of those guys – Mike, Kobe, LeBron, nobody’s like them. He has his own category: the best shooter ever. Not one of the best shooters, not Ray Allen, not Reggie Miller, he’s the best shooter ever. I’m in a class, but there’s another name you should mention: Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant of all. I am happy with that. But in its category, it is on its own. The greatest player ever, 10 people in that category.

So, the fact that he has his own class and no one is close to him, no one comes close to him, should tell you a lot. Then if you look at him, he still looks like a little kid. That’s what fascinates me the most—Jordan was big, Kobe was big, and Bron was big. If you saw Steph at the grocery store and didn’t know who he was, you’d think he was a regular food shopping guy. And the fact that he plays and dominates all these top players, I’m amazed by that, he can just get his shot in at any time. I love it, I’m jealous of it, I wish I could shoot like this.

Is there any other player that you think has the potential to have their own category where they are the best in the league, who has the potential to get there one day and be your favorite player behind Steve?

their class? no. There are a lot of players that can be in categories that already exist. When I was coming, the greatest never really mattered to me because there were so many options. I’m a psychic, I want to be there on my own. So, I was kind of upset, because I only needed a 10 point average last year to pass Wilt Chamberlain. I was going to say arrogantly, I’m the most dominant ever. I don’t want to hear Wilt’s name again. Wilt has two, I’ve got four, and I overtake him in points, there you go, oh yeah, Wilt averaged 50 points over one season, but guess what, I’m still giving it up. I wanted to get that. But that was me and him, I’m cool with that. Giannis, of course, you would have to move him into one of the greatest, Kevin Durant, and move him into a class, Reggie Miller, one of the greatest shooters, LeBron, move him into the class of greatest players ever, but to have that class yourself? No, there are no other people who can do that.

Laker legend, I want to ask about the Lakers and your general thoughts on the summer. It feels like a lot of it is, “If LeBron and Anthony Davis stay healthy, they’ll be fine.” Do you agree, or do you think they still need more to get where they want to go?

Yes, LeBron and AD remain in good health, they will be fine. But in order for the tournament to be of high quality, they have to break loose around them. Pat Beverly’s a good piece, he’s a defensive piece. Ross, I don’t know what he’s going to do, and I don’t know how they’re going to use it. But they need some dogs like Beverly, they need some bouncers, they need some shooters. That’s all you need. It’s not rocket science. You need an earthly leader, someone who will constantly dominate, every night, you need a killer shooter, and you need a guy who will raise some feathers. This is it. This is how you win a championship.

And it looks like a lot of attention this summer is on Ross and what his role will be if he stays. As someone who has played at a very high level for so long, how can a man who was a former key player, who is used to such a huge role, safely accept old age in the league?

I don’t think he was his age. I think he was fair, and I say that respectfully, I think he was showing a lot of respect. I don’t care who I play with, I give you 28. Fans pay a lot of money to make $100 million, and I give you 28. It’s not like, “Every time I get the ball, look for other stars,” he can play too, so when I get the ball I’ll do something. I can’t do anything, I’m looking for it. So you have to play. You can’t compromise all the time – here, here, here. Nah, throw the ball to me, let me go to work. I have 28 and 15 on average for personal reasons and for these fans.

He was so cute I don’t know the connection between him and LeBron, but if you put that down on paper and I don’t know anything about basketball, that’s hell from the backcourt, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Why it didn’t work, I don’t know, but watching him play, it was very negative. I don’t want you to be passive, I need you to play your game. I’m going to call plays, when you get the ball after they miss the shot, run, if you don’t have any, pull it up, give it to LeBron, and call some plays. That was me, he was thinking a lot. He is a man when he plays freely, he is a beast.

My last question is about The Nets, but it’s about Steve Nash specifically and everything that has happened around him this summer. He’s back to lead them – with what you know about Steve as a man he’s been a teammate with for some time, do you think he can go back to coaching this team as usual?

Before I answer the question, I’ll tell you a little story. A man asked me days ago, “Have you ever thought about training?” The answer is no. He said why? When a man earns 20 times more than you, it will be difficult for him to respect you. It appears that they do not respect him. It’s all “I want him to go, I want him to go” and then I come back and say we got the problem fixed, no, it’s not that easy. As adults, we can have heart to heart, and we can settle it. But she is still here. So when things don’t go well, they’ll blame him for it. So, he has to demand their respect. As a player, if you know that you are better than a former player who is now a coach, it will be difficult for you, in difficult situations, to listen to him. Therefore, it will be difficult. I know the coaches I’ve played with, they’ve put their feet up. Sometimes you have to put your foot down, even if the player won $50 million, you have to put your foot down, especially if the players aren’t going up, anyway.