Writing tends to be much easier when things are going poorly as opposed to when things are going well. This is why eulogies are usually so much better than wedding toasts. That and alcohol. This is unfortunate in the moment but revelatory, and relieving, in hindsight. The toast at your best friend's wedding, the one where your insights extended as far as "Never go to bed angry" feels great at the time but retrospectively, when your friend divorces because the wife was cheating on him with a semi-professional paintballer, that speech seems way less depressing than the eulogy you gave at your grandmother's funeral, no matter how emotionally exhausting that may have been at the time.
This has been a particularly wrenching last few months for us, and as is almost always the case when you experience extreme highs and extreme lows the most difficult thing to adjust to is normalcy. Consequently certain reactions to certain breaking news can be more dramatic than the news necessitates. All the more true when you have a fan base, ours, already prone to overthinking everything, just ask Jason Hart.
Which brings us, logically, to Shaquille O'Neal. I realize, at least I think realize, that much of what has been written about his inclusion as a partial owner has been written tongue in cheek. It's Shaquille O'Neal. Even if there wasn't pre-existing late 90's/early 2000's animosity there's the reality that there's something almost tacky about the inclusion of a celebrity partial owner. It seems shticky, like turning your professional sports franchise into a theme restaurant, the Kenny Rogers' Kings. That annoyance is exacerbated when it's a guy whose retirement has heretofore been defined by his dual abilities to brand Arizona drinks and to lower the property value of Inside the NBA. Now a disclaimer, I like Shaq on Inside the NBA, I do not like him as much as I like Chris Webber on Inside the NBA, but Chris Webber is also my favorite NBA player. But Shaq's post-NBA career has been very much like Shaq's non-NBA career; curious artistic choices, a certain degree of spotlight hogging, cameos in Grown Ups 2. None of this bothers me. And even if Shaq only takes this partial ownership as seriously as a cameo in Grown Ups 2 I'm not bothered. But I could understand how it may bother others. We've already dealt with owners who cared more about sizzle than steak. It's maybe still a tad too soon to be flirting with that again, however indirectly or inconsequentially.
But I really like the Shaq inclusion. And I really like it because I really like Shaq. And I really like what his inclusion says about how far we've come as a franchise and fans. The days of Shaq as a heavy seem, in retrospect, quaint. O'Neal should have been a villain for us. He was a natural adversary. We hated him because he was very good at beating us and that much better at taunting us subsequently. He, and Phil Jackson, were really the first two to pick on us for all those reasons we as Sacramentans simultaneously hate and love to be picked on, the cow bell clanging rubes with the stadium in the middle of nowhere. But there was always something good natured about the taunting. That sense, particularly in the early 2000's, that the quips came from a place of fear, respect and admiration. Effectively the same places our attitude toward Shaq came from.
In the intervening years real adversaries arose, the worst kinds of adversaries. People we trusted. The people entrusted with this franchise. The people we were supposed to be supportive of. Maybe this wouldn't be an issue, or the same kind of an issue, in a place like Philadelphia, where there is a built-in antagonistic relationship between management and the fanbase. This is much harder in Sacramento, where the cultural norm has been to be supportive. How difficult was it for us to be supportive, no matter how badly we wanted to and how vainly we tried, of, let's see, Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Keith Smart's rotations, Geoff Petrie's ennui, every Maloof ever, STOP and their cadre of grassroots liberals using the sort of TEA Party AstroTurf and fear mongering grassroots liberals ostensibly abhor? Christ even Chris Hanson has attempted to paint himself as someone sympathetic to Sacramento's situation. Shaq played the part of the cad. He was good at it. To a degree he meant it. But that era is over. And I miss that era. Not just because it was a time when being repulsed was fun. But because we've been enmeshed for so long in an era of "We have met the enemy, and they are us."
I've probably discussed this here before but there's this really delicate balance in the fall. On the one hand it's defined by its reflectiveness. The seasonal change becomes more drastic; the cold creeps in, the days get shorter, the light wanes, all those signs we associate with aging intensify. Alternatively for so many it is a season of rebirth. For us the NBA begins its journey to spring. I have no idea what Shaq as an owner will bring substantively to this franchise, but I love the hire because I know what he brings symbolically. We've been stranded in the autumn, unable to do anything but focus on the past because the only thing bleaker than our present was our future. We've been freed from that. Sure we're still playing at Sleep Train and no this isn't exactly the world's best roster, but now there's a tomorrow and tomorrow always makes a shitty today tolerable. An ability to embrace Shaq, to accept him as part of our future, isn't a rejection of our past so much as it is an embracing of our present. And that present looks a lot better. Even if he's been known to wear vests and bowler hats.