Shaq should make TNT NBA telecasts even more interesting

If the lockout erases the National Basketball Association season, TNT might have to come up with another plan for its studio panel, which grew in a big way — literally — Thursday with the addition of recently retired Shaquille O’Neal

How about Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson and Shaq on politics? Movies? Music?

Why the heck not? It was evident on a call to announce O’Neal’s hiring that the man Smith has dubbed “The Big Analytical” will fit right in with a group too colourful to be stifled by a mere labour dispute.

Speaking of which, part of Shaq’s contract with Turner is a development deal with its entertainment and animation divisions.

Naturally, the preference is that basketball be played, and, if it is, O’Neal is confident he will mesh with the popular, established threesome.

“It’s not really a concern for me,” he said. “I’ve always been a team player. I know when to fit in and when to just sit back and relax.”

Sitting back and relaxing isn’t the goal. TNT hopes O’Neal will be a fresh foil for Sir Charles and Co.

David Levy, president of Turner Sports, said Barkley was a strong proponent of adding O’Neal. (In a news release, Barkley quoted Bart Scott of the National Football League’s New York Jets, saying, “Can’t wait!”)

O’Neal was an obvious target for national networks upon retiring, and ESPN made a play for him. He said he did not want to incite a bidding war and simply went with his favourite show as a player.

“It was an easy decision,” he said. “The guys are very fun over there. They like to, as they say in the sports world, keep it real, and I thought it was the best fit for me.”

O’Neal was his usual playful self, kibitzing with reporters, although he sounded serious responding to a joking reference to reviving his 1996 movie Kazaam. Said Shaq: “No Kazaam jokes, tough guy.”

After lavishing praise on Yao Ming, O’Neal put an old adversary, the Magic’s Dwight Howard, on the spot, saying with “no competition, zero, zilch” at centre now, he should win at least one or two titles.

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