Shaq explains why he chose to work for TNT over ESPN
Shaquille O’Neal decided over a decade ago that he would join TNT as an analyst. He also had a major offer from ESPN at the time, but the Hall of Famer says there is one main reason he chose TNT — they didn’t need him.
During an appearance the “Marchand and Ourand” sports media podcast this week, Shaq was asked how he decided to work for TNT in 2011 over ESPN. He said he met with David Levy, the former president of TNT parent company Turner, and felt more comfortable with his pitch than ESPN’s after Levy explained that O’Neal would not have to carry any show with TNT.
“Mr. Levy came to my house and he said, ‘We don’t need you, but we would like to have you,'” Shaq recalled. “ESPN was saying we need you. So, I was thinking if I have a bad day at Turner, I’m gonna be OK. But if I have a bad day at ESPN, it can only get worse.”
That wasn’t the only reason. Shaq said working for Turner allowed him to be close to his family in Orlando. He has also always had tremendous respect for Ernie Johnson.
“Listen, I have a different type of love for Ernie Johnson,” Shaq said. “Ernie Johnson was a guy that I used to watch on TV. He actually came to my house when I was 17 years old to interview me. I love his voice. I love how he treats people.
“I’m not as good as Ernie. So, me being by myself, I’m gonna have to carry. I don’t think my ADHD would allow me to carry a show by myself. Being a teammate on a great team I think has done well for us. … Just being one of the guys is something I enjoy, rather than trying to be the guy. I could never do what Ernie does.”
While he did not go into specifics, it sounds like ESPN pitched Shaq on the idea of being the center of its NBA coverage. He felt more comfortable joining Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith. It goes without saying that the decision worked out, as “Inside the NBA” has won numerous Emmy Awards and is one of the best sports studio shows ever.
We don’t know whom Shaq would be working alongside right now if he took the ESPN job. What we do know is that there’s no way he would have the same chemistry with that person that he has with Barkley.
Photo: Mar 10, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; NBA former player Shaquille O’Neal watches a game between the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors in the third quarter at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 105-99. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports