Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O’Neal accepts his new jersey from Patrick Powell, 13, left, and James Robinson, 14, both of Cleveland at the O’Neal introductory news conference at the Cavaliers practice facility in Independence, Ohio, Thursday.AP photo
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Laughing and loose, Shaq looked right at home.
Shaquille O’Neal and his oversized persona debuted in Cleveland on Thursday with a stated goal for next season. His friend LeBron James craves a championship, and O’Neal is here to serve.
“My motto is very simple,” O’Neal said. ‘“Win a Ring for the King.”’
The 15-time All-Star center with four NBA titles was bedecked in a black suit, pink shirt and pink tie for an introductory news conference that might as well have been billed The Shaq Show.
Acquired last week in a blockbuster trade with the Phoenix Suns, O’Neal was welcomed by a team that believes he can bring this title-thirsty region its first major pro sports crown in 45 years.
Flanked by Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown, O’Neal held court for nearly a half hour as only Shaq can. In front of an audience that included Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, media members, season-ticket holders, corporate partners and kids from a summer camp, O’Neal gave Cleveland fans their first glimpse of what’s in store next year — and maybe beyond.
Joined by his wife, Shaunie, O’Neal was calm, comedic and oozing — as always — with confidence. Clutching the microphone and delivering his answers in his unmistakable, bottomless baritone, O’Neal addressed topics ranging from a possible contract extension in Cleveland to James’ future to his Twitter page to a budding rivalry with Orlando center Dwight Howard.
The 37-year-old O’Neal has one season at $21 million left on a five-year, $100 million contract. However, early in his remarks he said, “I’ve got three years left in my career,” perhaps an initial attempt to persuade the Cavaliers to extend his deal past 2010.
“I have a lot left,” he said. “There’s only four or five good centers in the league and I’m in that number. ... I’ve been in it (the NBA) for 17 years, but I’ve missed three years because of injury. If you do the math, I’ve still got three years left. You got that?”
The Cavaliers most likely will ride out next season before making any plans with O’Neal, but the fifth-leading scorer in league history made it clear he doesn’t want to be around for just one year. Rent-a-Shaq is not his idea of a lasting impact.
“I would love an extension, who wouldn’t?” he said, flashing his easy smile. “If they offer me a $35 million a year extension, I’ll sign it right now. I won’t even read the contract. I’m just here to take care of business and I know can help give the city what it’s looking for.”
Cleveland, which hasn’t celebrated a championship since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964, is the first cold-weather NBA city O’Neal has played in following stops in Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix. None of those is known for its lake-effect snowfall, and Gilbert presented O’Neal with a large pair of winter boots — with the toes cut out — and an oversized shovel.
O’Neal has no concerns about Ohio’s climate. His only focus is on warming James with a title.
“It’s LeBron’s team,” he said. “He’s the captain. This is the time in my career where I can fit in. I’m now in the security business. My job is to protect the King, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
The 7-foot-1, 325-pounder had difficulty meshing in with Phoenix’s run-and-gun style. The Suns made just one playoff appearance during his 1 1/2 seasons in the desert, but O’Neal is confident he can adapt to whatever offense the Cavaliers install.
“I’m pretty much able to play any style,” he said, turning and touching Brown’s shoulder. “I’m not here to demand 40 or 50 shots. But I would like 30.
“I’m just coming here to do my part and help a damn good team get over the hump.”
The Cavaliers won 66 games during the regular season and eight straight to open the playoffs, but they came up short this June when they were eliminated by the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. There is a greater sense of urgency in Cleveland to win it all because James is entering his final year under contract and there are no guarantees he will stay.
When asked about James’ plans, O’Neal said his Uncle Jerome, who was in attendance, had taught him to “never worry about tomorrow, worry about today.”
O’Neal is sure that if James wins his first title in Cleveland, he’ll stay around for more.
“In a perfect world and we win and take care of business, he has no choice but to stay here,” O’Neal said. “If we do what we came here to do, everything will fall into place.”
James has been vacationing with his family and did not attend O’Neal’s news conference. The superstars have exchanged e-mails and O’Neal plans to visit James this summer.
O’Neal joked that his trade to Cleveland made his family happy.
“My sons love LeBron more than they love me,” he said. “I’m just a little jealous about it.”
Now that he’s on a new team, O’Neal needs a new nickname. His previous monikers: The Big Diesel, The Big Aristotle. The Big Cactus, Shaq Fu, don’t fit his new digs. So, has he come up with one?
“A friend tweeted me with ‘The Big Freeze,”’ he said. “I don’t know about that one. I’ve got to go home, play around with the kids and figure something out. I’ll have one.”