Each member of Inside the NBA fills a well-defined role. Charles Barkley just kind of says stuff from the heart that’s usually wrong yet coherent, Kenny Smith offers sensible analysis largely drowned out by the show’s louder voices, Ernie Johnson keeps things moving, and Shaquille O’Neal is the void of charisma at the end of the desk who spends his time ineffectually bullying his co-hosts and mumbling about how players today are fragile cowards. The meanness is one thing, and Shaq has always been a big jerk, but it’s the obvious nihilism towards hoops that makes him such a terrible TV personality.
Why someone this criminally unfunny and visibly disinterested in basketball as anything other than a vehicle for self-deification would still be hosting basketball’s pre-eminent studio show is beyond me. Lately, however, a silver lining has started to develop: Nobody is pretending like they have to put up with Shaq’s routine anymore.
Shaq’s gotten more vinegary as former teammates and opponents thin out of the league, and the status he once enjoyed has not translated to a new class of stars. That’s logical, since Shaq’s adopted the stance that they all suck and are frauds without having to appeared to have watched them very much. This has led to some awkward and often embarrassing interactions between Shaq and current NBA players, the latest of which involved Donovan Mitchell.
What can you do to distinguish yourself as an ultra-elite player? is a fine question. What do you think about my take that you don’t have the juice? is not. Mitchell was clearly not in a mood to go along with Shaq’s stunt, and expanded on his dissatisfaction with the interview’s framing later, saying, “I hate to take a win like this and make it about what they said about me.”
Both LeBron James and Kevin Durant (who started the season with an awkward Inside the NBA interview of his own) weighed in on Shaq’s boneheadedness, implying that, among the current generation of NBA stars, Shaq is regarded as a bitter old loser who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
(For his part, Shaq also briefly opened Instagram to tell an artist who photoshopped Mitchell dunking on Shaq to shut up.)
If players as famous and well-regarded as Durant and James aren’t even willing to go along with this shtick, then perhaps this whole mode of punditry has hit its sell-by date. Even Nikola Jokic, one of the least flappable stars in the league, appeared quite baffled when Shaq casually mentioned that he thought Jokic was Russian. Perhaps Shaq being a crank for nine years has worn everyone thin. Perhaps today’s stars have no reason to care about what someone like Shaq thinks. Perhaps Christian Wood was right: