And thus ends one of the more perplexing NBA feuds, not with a verbal blowup or a throwing of the hands, but with the instigator being called off by his mommy.
Current TNT analyst and retired hardwood jester Shaquille O’Neal has been teasing current hardwood jester JaVale McGee for years now, needling McGee for the now-Warrior’s penchant for the absurd. Intellectually, this was all well and good. Shaq has a segment, “Shaqtin’ a Fool,” that focuses on funny dumb plays. McGee, especially in his early years, was a nearly unending font of funny dumb plays, and thus was a regular target for Shaq’s giggles.
Somewhere along the line, McGee began to feel some type of way about Shaq’s constant negative attention. McGee was a young, wildly athletic, exceptionally talented though error-prone big man trying to make his way in the game. To have his potential, his athleticism, and his talent continually overshadowed by moments—recurring moments, mind you, but still just moments nonetheless—of ineptitude for comic effect has to be frustrating.
And with a single, high-profile, known bully like Shaq repeatedly turning his microscope on these funny moments, it’s easy to see how Shaq became in McGee’s mind the primary force pushing this reputation of McGee as a bumbling, simple-minded player. Sure, it doesn’t quite track logically—it’s not like McGee wasn’t fucking up on the court in hilarious fashion fairly often, and those plays themselves almost certainly did more to give McGee the reputation than did Shaq pointing at them and laughing—but it’s a feeling that arises from an understandable place.
Thus the beef cycle churned on: Shaq poked fun at McGee, McGee got upset, McGee lashed out (and let’s not forget, McGee accusing Shaq of coonery and minstrelsy is much harsher than Shaq rolling a clip of McGee stumbling over his feet before aimlessly chucking the ball out of bounds and laughing), and Shaq doubled down on his attacks once he’d realized he got under McGee’s skin.
All of this, then, is a playground dynamic writ large. It’s also the most fitting possible ending to something like this: When teasing crosses the line into bullying, it often requires the bully’s mom to step in and tell him to cut it out.
The Undefeated talked to both moms in question, and got Shaq on the record with an important update about the state of the feud:
“I have orders from the top to leave it alone,” O’Neal said past midnight on Saturday.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver?
“No,” O’Neal said. “My mama. Just say Shaq’s mom called him, told him, ‘Stop this silliness. Leave him alone.’ So that’s the end of the beef. You won’t be hearing about it from my side anymore. Mama has spoken.”
Said Lucille O’Neal earlier Saturday evening from her Orlando, Florida, home, “It’s not funny anymore, seeing the things they’re saying to each other. They need to squash this and move on.”
McGee’s mom was a little less willing to let bygones be bygones, telling the Undefeated that she won’t be satisfied until Shaq has been fired or at least suspended from his Inside the NBA gig.
It’s still a little strange how what began as ostensibly good-natured ribbing became a whole to-do involving the minstrel tradition, thinly veiled promises to fight, and the supposed loss of untold riches because of a few lowlight reels, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Boys—even extremely big ones—will still be boys.