How Shaq broke the marketing mold

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How Shaq broke the marketing mold

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

As dominant as Shaquille O'Neal was on the basketball court, he was an even larger-than-life figure away from the game.

Now that the Boston Celtics big man -- make that, former Boston Celtics big man -- has called it a career, we're bound to see even more of the market maven we have come to know, love and maybe most significant: Buy the products and services that he pitches.

In an earlier wide-ranging interview with CSNNE.com, O'Neal gave his thoughts on the various keys to establishing one's brand away from the game if you're a professional athlete.

"A lot of so-called experts may disagree with this statement I'm about to give you, but image is reality," O'Neal said. "When you have guys and they have guys that make up their image, it always catches up to them. I'm not going to say no names, but you have to be who you are. Everything that I do in the community, it's always how I've been."

O'Neal then repeats one of his favorite tales, the one about what how his dad gave an Army veteran his last 5.

"So I'm like, 'Why you do that?'" O'Neal recalled. "He was like, 'Yo man, if you ever make it big you have to help those in need.'"

Having a charitable heart only adds to the attraction that fans across the globe have to O'Neal and the dozens of products and services he has pitched over the course of his 19 NBA seasons.

Making his marketing success even more remarkable is that for so many years, players with his size were viewed as unmarketable.

Because most people aren't 7-foot-1 or weigh 300-plus pounds or wear a size 23, how could they possibly relate to O'Neal?

Even while at LSU, O'Neal recalls professors reiterating that big men aren't marketable to the masses.

So as he went about preparing for his career as a professional basketball player, he looked around at the great players and those that seemed to manage being great pitchmen as well.

There was Michael Jordan.

"They like Mike. Why? Because he's out there killing them," O'Neal said.

He looked at Magic Johnson.

"They like Magic. Why? Because he smiles. He ain't got the best vocabulary," quipped O'Neal. "But they like him."

So O'Neal reasoned that he could dominate the game like MJ and he certainly could flash an ear-to-ear grin with the best of them -- Magic included.

Up next?

Convincing companies that he was the man to pitch their products.

In hindsight, you would think it was a no-brainer.

But as O'Neal soon discovered, his perseverance -- maybe more than his personality -- would ultimately be the key to his marketing success.

"I was the one to break the theory that big men can't sell," O'Neal said. "I went to Reebok and they didn't want to give me a commercial. I said, 'Listen, give me a budget. I'll do my first commercial, and if you like it we'll do more. If not, we'll shut it down.' "

O'Neal's first commercial was the 'Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk' campaign that featured Hall of Fame big men Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as well as former Celtics Bill Walton and Bill Russell.

"It was designed, written and directed by me," O'Neal said. "I wanted to do that to let them know, these are the best, and I'm coming for your ass. I want to be mentioned with you all."

His career numbers say it all. His 28,596 points rank fifth all-time in NBA history. He's collected 13,099 rebounds which ranks 7th all-time. And the 13 seasons averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds is an NBA record.

But as much as he'll be remembered for what he achieved as a basketball player, he has given even more to the game in the way he paved the door for NBA big men such as Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Celtics perennial all-star Kevin Garnett to have opportunities to establish their own brand beyond what they have achieved on the floor.

"Marketing-wise, I had to push myself, push the product and at the end, make somebody laugh," O'Neal said. "Everything I do is just real. A lot of guys have a successful real brand. A lot of guys don't have a successful brand. To me, branding is reality. Those guys that are what they are, go far. Like Jordan has been Jordan since '87. It's working for him. Magic has been Magic since '85 and it's working for him."

He added, "I'm Shaq . . . and it's working for me."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.