The Big Microphone?
As one of the most dominant centres in NBA history, Shaquille O'Neal has always been known for having quick feet, among other attributes.
Toronto Raptors broadcaster Leo Rautins can add that the certain Basketball Hall of Famer is quick on his feet, too.
O'Neal, known variously as the Big Diesel, the Big Aristotle and, now, the Big Cactus since he joined the Phoenix Suns, was a surprise visitor to Syracuse University this past week. He enrolled in a three-day broadcast school boot camp.
Run in conjunction with Syracuse's prestigious S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the NBA Players Association, the program is designed to prepare those interested in pursuing careers in media after their playing days are over.
O'Neal began the program last Sunday, and Rautins, himself a graduate of the Newhouse School and former basketball star at Syracuse, was called in Tuesday to help O'Neal with a number of segments.
While Rautins has always been impressed with O'Neal the player, he came away with high praise for O'Neal the aspiring broadcaster.
"He's really funny," said Rautins, who splits his time between Syracuse and Toronto. "I always thought he'd be great to play with for that reason, but he was very good at this, too. I'd put him in the top three or four player analysts in the league right now, no offence to who's out there. He's just so colourful and so fun."
Rautins said it's clear O'Neal envisages himself as having a presence on radio and as a studio analyst down the road. To that end, Rautins was featured as a guest on the The Shaq Show and also joined him on a panel as part of a mock pregame show.
O'Neal nailed all his exercises, Rautins said. "He's quick. He's singing on air, he's calling other big men barbecue chicken, [Orlando Magic centre]Dwight Howard is Superman II, that kind of thing."
But what impressed Rautins most was how seriously O'Neal took the program, or even that he took it at all.
"Let's face it, he could go to any network he wanted and get hired today, he's such a well-known personality, but he really worked at it, asked questions, took notes and was really receptive to any coaching offered," Rautins said.
O'Neal paid more than $15,000 (U.S.) for the three-day private tutorial. Typically, there are three or four students taking the program at once and players are charged $5,200.
His tutorial didn't remain private for long. O'Neal stayed at the hotel on campus and word that the seven-foot, 360-pound NBA star was nearby spread quickly.
"It was getting pretty crazy by [Tuesday]" Rautins said. "When I got there, ESPN was there, The New York Times was there. Everyone wanted a piece of Shaq at broadcast school."
O'Neal said he wanted to take the course so he would have more confidence when he turns to broadcasting full-time, something he's not planning until his playing days are over, two or three seasons down the road.
"I sit at home and watch [broadcasters]and they do such a wonderful job and I wonder if I could do that," O'Neal said on ESPN. "Instead of using my name to get a job, I wanted to learn some of the secrets."
Taking the course privately offered O'Neal other benefits: When he heads out to look for work, he can say he graduated at the top of his class.