Has Hollywood infiltrated sports?
July 22, 2004
[Editor’s note: Readers will have the opportunity to comment on this column for publication in the July 30 Sierra Sun sports section.]
“Shaq in Black” should have been titled “Man in Black” to sound more like a Hollywood cousin “Men in Black.” Titled Shaq in Black, Shaquille O’Neal’s Tuesday arrival in Miami at AmericanAirlines Arena was a Hollywood-esque extravaganza and a celebration fit for kings and presidents, not professional athletes.
“Diesel Power” would also be an appropriate title for Shaq’s next movie and would sit appropriately next to “Kazaam” and “Steel,” two horrible motion pictures starring the former Lakers star made around the time he came to L.A, eight years ago.
“Diesel Power” was the words that graced the side of Shaq’s semi-tractor trailer which arrived at a press conference meant to swear in the 32-year-old, 7-foot-1, 340 pound center to his new team, the Miami Heat, and welcome him back to the state he once played in with the Orlando Magic.
Maybe a new movie deal for the Diesel is what public relations officials who set up the homage had in mind. It was such an extravaganza that Shaq told his wife he felt like the president before he walked out on a red carpet to greet fans and reporters at a press conference where Shaq would once again talk about how big of a mistake the L.A. Lakers made trading him away and also to talk about his relationship with Kobe Bryant gone sour. It seems a four-part interview on ESPN’s SportsCenter only a few days earlier wasn’t enough to get his point across.
Nope. Reporters and fans had to hear it once again from a podium through a microphone with cameras flashing.
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Shaq was given the keys to both the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County from Mayors Manny Diaz and Alex Penelas. The keys to the city and county? An athlete? Why? Because he’s going to bring a championship to Miami, as he promised the fans on Tuesday. That’s Shaq’s humanitarian cause?
That makes Shaq heroic, worthy of red carpet treatment? Last time I heard, championship or not, Miami fans will still go back to their homes and deal with real-life problems outside of sports. Shaq might provide a couple thrills twice or three times a week. Then again, he has missed 15 regular season games each of the past three seasons due to injury.
After reading about and listening to the nonsense that came out of Shaq’s mouth during his parade and other interviews, I suddenly came to the conclusion that sports and Hollywood are conjoined to an extreme that seems to have no bounds anymore.
It’s not just Shaq. It’s not just basketball; but this Shaq in Black ” why it was just silly. And we endorse it. We sit there, the morons that we are, and cheer on a man that hasn’t done squat for the Heat organization yet. I’m not calling those excited fans morons, Shaq is.
Shaq said in so many words in the SportsCenter interview that his “thought process begins where the average person’s apexes.” Is it not these same people that Shaq is demeaning that are welcoming him like he is the Second Coming nearly a week later? Do we not listen and take offense to this? Does 27.1 points per game in his career give him the right to denounce our intelligence? I think you should have to score 30 a game to have that right.
The arrogance gets annoying. Shaq proclaimed himself the “Millennium Goliath.” Shaq, as intelligent as he claims to be, should know that there is bad karma that follows the Goliath name. Goliath was slain by David, exactly like Shaq’s Lakers were by the Pistons in the NBA Finals. Not to mention Shaq wore a white suit to Shaq in Black. Then he called himself “sexy” at the conference. We laugh at his remarks. We think they’re cute. But picture Shaq for a moment . . . my mind conjures up a sweaty, 340 pound, bald gargantuan. I don’t think sexy.
It’s just crazy. The things athletes are allowed to do and say. The power they are afforded. Shaq has called himself the No. 1 player in the NBA and basically contends that he is even better than his $30 million contract. A player that can’t make a free throw is the best and worth more than 30 mill?
Shaq has offered Heat president Pat Riley his assistance in bringing free agents to Miami. I’m sure Riley is thinking, “Thanks Shaq, but you just start training now so you can play in 70 or more games this season. Leave that whole player management thing to me.” Shaq is fun to listen to and is somewhat of a media darling. No doubt. You cannot guess what will come out of his mouth next.
But was this celebration necessary? Are single athletes worthy of this? Teams’ cities host parades AFTER they win a championship. Individuals aren’t supposed to get parades before they play a single game representing that city.
Actually, Lynn Norman-Teck, a spokeswoman for the county that gave Shaq its illustrious key, couldn’t have said it any better in a statement to the Miami Herald: “Shaq hasn’t done anything yet, but there’s a lot of anticipation about him coming here.”
This whole Hollywood-in-sports thing has me frazzled. Watching the Shaq and Kobe drama play out has put things into perspective.
When I was a child I would emulate my favorite ballplayers by swinging a little bat in my living room, throwing a football to myself in the driveway, or lowering my hoop and having mock dunk contests. I was pretending to be the player experiencing the glory, but it was focused on playing the game. I never thought of what I might say if I was that athlete sworn into the arena of my new team after a blockbuster trade. I never stood in the front of the mirror and thought about what I would say at such a news conference. My fear is that children probably do now. What is a son or daughter to think that is brought to Shaq in Black on Tuesday in Miami?
So many other instances are related to this Hollywood-sports hybrid. Terrel Owens signing a football with a Sharpie after scoring a touchdown. Joe Horn retrieving his cell phone from the goal post pad after scoring a touchdown, an act that was obviously premeditated and planned. Then there is tennis player Anna Kournikova, more known for her short skirts and photo shoots than her tennis game.
When did the fascination with how cool you could look or act get mixed in with how an athlete plays the game or what he or she means to a franchise or their sport (if individual like golf, tennis, cycling, etc.)?
When did sports become a stage for red carpets and soaking up camera time? When did this mindset evolve? Was it when sports began being filmed? Or was it when networks like ESPN were born and started showing daily highlights?
Was it Babe Ruth’s famous, but debated, called shot in the 1932 World Series? Was it Pretty Boy N.Y. Jets quarterback Joe Namath arrogantly predicting victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl III, and then making true on his promise? Was it Ken Griffey Jr. who had that stand-there-and-admire-your-home-run look down pat in the 90s?
I’d like to hear your thoughts on this new era in sports. Or is it all that new? Send your response to email@example.com. What is one play or one player that sticks out in representing those moments when the acting, the drama and the extravaganza become bigger than the game itself? Did it change your opinion of sports?
If enough responses come in, they will be printed in the July 30 Sierra Sun sports section in a Fan Feedback section.
Until then, I’m going to start writing the script for “Diesel Power” before someone beats me to it. Come to think of it, the movie was already made on Tuesday in Miami. All they have to do is edit it and press play.
Matt Brown is sports editor for the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.