After a relatively scandal-free 19-year career that saw four NBA championships, 15 All Star matches, six high-profile basketball clubs, a feud with Kobe Bryant, and widespread coverage/ adoration by the sports media at large, Shaquille O’Neal will move back to Orlando – where he was originally employed by the NBA’s Orlando Magic – and run for governor.
Impressing Floridians with his massive size (which had only previously been seen by the majority of citizens on TV, which has a distorting effect; he poses among supporters at a much higher frequency than is considered normal for a gubernatorial candidate, consciously using his height as a gimmick to drive his campaign popularity), deep voice, and surprisingly liberal, reasonable and intellectual stances on immigration, the Middle East, medical marijuana, and minority rights, Shaq tours the tropical landscape holding fundraisers, campaign rallys and networking galas with names such as “Shaqtacular,” “The Shaqstravaganza,” and “ShaqFu Returns.”
Shaq begins referring to election day as “Shaqment Day” in the week approaching it, and on Twitter, seems desperate to make the #ShaqmentDay hashtag go viral, almost in an unseemly manner – using it in the majority of his tweets. During the final two days before election day, Shaq goes so far as to dedicate over 60 percent of his tweets to explicitly urging his followers to “pls use #ShaqmentDay hashtags in yalls tweets yall.” Later, analysts will refer to this as “troubling and [indicating that he was] possibly deranged,” (despite the fact that Shaq’s history includes no instances of erratic behavior) and that it was a mistake to rely so heavily on the possible widespread propagation of a hashtag to generate buzz, rather than dedicating his tweets to platform issues and/or his unique stances and characteristics as a candidate, which, paradoxically, probably would have generated the virality Shaq so pursued.
Nevertheless, the hashtag does go viral to some extent, becoming a trending topic for Florida for about three and a half days. However, due to the media’s curious lack of campaign coverage, Floridians’ conservative values, and a particular Howard Dean-like campaign rally speech during which Shaq, so enthusiastic, rips off his white buttondown in some sort of horrid preplanned gag to reveal a blue and black spandex suit with the Superman logo on its chest, this one obviously meant to stand for “Shaq” (some news coverage, eager to place Shaq in the wrong, immediately pans to the audience for reaction, of whom many members grimace and recover with uncomfortable fake grins and nods, trying very hard to maintain an appearance of interest and support), less people pick up “Shaqment Day” than Shaq hopes, and he does not become the governor of Florida.
But Shaq takes the loss with a surprising zen-like demeanor. In his concession speech, the NBA legend who was in his fruitful career the league’s Most Valuable Player three times makes a number of remarks about the impermant nature of matter, limited time, the value of sarcasm, the use of detachment to subvert what one would traditionally perceive as a bad situation into a neutral or even comical one, and a closing statement in which he testifies, to the bafflement of political pundits, that he thinks the situation he’s in right now, at this very moment, is funny; that “it just seems funny to me, I’m grinning…I don’t know why I did the whole ‘Shaqment Day’ thing. This is really funny, jesus.”
Shaq fades into obscurity for a number of years – his social media presences drastically diminished (his Twitter stream made private, even) – although it appears as if it isn’t in spite of fame or from feelings of humiliation, but for more personal and obscure reasons. In his (some will say poorly written, sparsely edited) autobiography – Shaq Attack: A Memoir (2018) – O’Neal will describe his years out of the public view:
It seemed like I had reached some sort of impasse. I could understand all possibilities that existed in front of me; nothing was surprising, nothing could be surprising, everything was mundane, everything was comfortable. Nothing could happen that I didn’t see coming, because I sheltered myself in a way such to simply preclude extreme pain or extremely negative situations. I’m not sure how to explain it. I would wake up and know what was going to happen, and judging that, I actually couldn’t discern what my emotions were – but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t happy. Nothing seemed to matter, really – all choices seemed pretty arbitrary. I get now that that made me not matter, essentially, but I was really in just this strange, vacuous funk for awhile.
I started seeing women differently, too. It’s weird – I always had this idea of a fantasy woman in my head, and when I hooked up with someone, I’d sort of unconsciously delude myself that I was getting my fantasy, whether or not the girl actually was my fantasy. It involved a lot of ignoring/ forgetting, basically, and it was really individualistic or narcissistic, really – I’d essentially deny reality by brainwashing myself that who I was sleeping with was the fulfillment of my deepest sexual desires, which – by nature of “fantasy” – could never be represented in the physical universe. But then I realized that I was doing that, and it made me feel really weird. It’s strange, the dilemma of relationships and sex – you have this idea of a fantasy girl while at the same time simply wanting to be close to someone – anyone. And a fantasy is just that – a fantasy. And even if you find someone that seems to fit that fantasy, there’s no guarantee that that person isn’t going to be taken already, or that she’s going to like you at all. I mean, generally, not everyone that you want is going to want you back. And so there’s this constant narrowing of the field. Eventually you end up with someone that sort of fits into your fantasy, who thinks you sort of fit into theirs. It seems like such a fucking compromise, but it’s also a really scary way to see the world. The playing field is narrowed further to “people who also want you.” So invariably you end up in a compromise. It really sort of depressed me and made me rethink my whole self-centered stance.
During this time, I don’t remember how, but I also started taking walks. The walks seemed to be in response to not doing anything all day. Doing something for the simple sake of doing something – coupled with the idea that I might encounter something surprising – it was an exciting prospect. I know it sounds lame, but that feeling was very special to me; to take a walk because there was real possibility out there; that I was willfully inserting myself into a situation with more variables than I was comfortable with. But my walks soon became troubling – as they became more regular, I began to perceive a growing sense of alienation inside of me. Everyone was so stupid, I began to think; no one could keep their shit together, everyone had stupid conversations, our culture was becoming so goddamn monotonous and bland. Even the “cultured” people were inauthentic carbon copies of the collective memory of what’s valued as “cool.”
Shaq will further report in the autobiography about having felt an “extreme sort of embarrassment or shame” regarding all sorts of relatively minor, nuanced history. One aspect of his career of which he feels very ashamed, for example, was promoting himself, during his career in the NBA, as “Shaq,” rather than simply promoting himself as “Shaquille O’Neal.” On this, he writes, “It was just embarrassing and corny. It was such a retarded idea to build a persona called ‘Shaq’… I feel stupid right now just thinking about it. I can’t really explain it that well, but I like shake my head and make this uncontrollable sound of embarrassment, like a sort of squeak, every time I think about it. I honestly feel ‘tortured’ by it. I have the same feelings about ‘Shaqment Day.'”
But one fateful day, in an event that takes everyone by surprise, Shaq once again emerges out of his personal depths. Indeed, it is not until five years after his unsuccessful gubernatorial run that Shaq once again takes a significant position on the stage of mainstream America, and this time, the public is completely unprepared for what’s in store.
…………………..To be continued………………