It can’t be easy to be Shaquille O’Neal. I remember meeting him many years ago, and thinking, “that’s the biggest human being to ever live.” Factually, of course that’s not correct, but for those who have a friend who is 6-foot-5, and your life does not intersect with professional basketball often, think about how much taller that person is than anyone you regularly see.
O’Neal is 7-foot-1, and has weighed over 300-plus pounds for his entire adult life with feet past size 20. Regardless of if he became one of the greatest professional athletes of all time or not, people were going to notice him. In response, he took rule No. 6 from Wedding Crashers to heart more than a decade before the film’s release: “Draw attention to yourself, but on your own terms.”
Since the Pepsi commercial where Shaq pulls the basket down to himself, he has owned his size the only way that he knows how, by imposing it on everyone else. On the court it made him one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA, but it could also make him hard to deal with. He liked the limelight and liked being in charge. That’s one of the reasons his first two NBA partnerships, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and the late Kobe Bryant, did not have storybook endings.
He has long admitted his ego got in the way of those partnerships, but in recent weeks O’Neal has been extremely thoughtful and introspective about his entire life. He recently appeared on The Pivot Podcast and did an interview with Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report. Highlights included Shaq speaking on suffering the consequences of being a selfish partner in marriage, and living with the regret of not reaching out to Bryant and his late sister more in life.
It carried over into the pregame before the Golden State Warriors-Dallas Mavericks Game 4 contest on Tuesday evening, after the mass shooting and killing at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Being that O’Neal played high school basketball in nearby San Antonio, Ernie Johnson went to him first during TNT’s pregame.
This was after they aired video of a furious Steve Kerr calling out Congress at large, and Mitch McConnell by name, for blocking the vote on a gun reform bill that passed the House of Representatives and was promptly stonewalled on the Senate floor. It’s a bill that would require nationwide background checks for firearm sales between private parties. O’Neal agreed with Kerr that action is necessary, but said that we need to go even further than background checks alone. He said that some people don’t show an I.D. or go to the gun counter like the murderer in Uvalde. “Let’s not forget about the underground market… You have to check all avenues, don’t just talk about certain things and [forget] about the other things.”
O’Neal was simply speaking off the cuff about life growing up in Newark, N.J. — he was 9 years old in 1981, when the city recorded a record high 161 murders with a population of around 329,000. His point is very real though. For one, receiving a federal firearms license is not that difficult. Per USA Today, pay $200, give a fingerprint, photo, pass a background check, and you, too, can legally sell guns in the United States. Also, according to that report, fewer than 15 percent of those licensed are inspected every year and licenses are rarely revoked. “People get killed every day,” O’Neal said. “Kids get killed every day. … Places where Kenny (Smith) and I are from, anyone can get a weapon.”
Much of that is due to the ATF being used as target practice by the NRA. The lobbyist group has used its influence to hamstring the government investigative agency responsible for keeping track of the firearms in this country. According to the New York Times, the number of inspectors watching over gun transactions has decreased by 20 percent since 2001 as gun sales continue to reach record highs. The organization has directly influenced limits placed on the ATF’s ability to regulate firearms, as it did in 2011, when the NRA successfully lobbied for limits on unannounced inspections of gun distributors. The NRA also worked to stymie the ATF’s Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-sized stack of paper records from being digitized. All of this while the ATF estimates that 1.2 percent of dealers account for 57 percent of the firearms traced back to crimes, according to the Times. That’s just those traced, nevermind the weapons and criminals who are never found.
The ATF is being forced to work unnecessarily hard to do less work, which is why straw purchasers — people who can pass firearm background checks and then put their purchased weapon in the hands of someone who can’t — can get guns into the hands of anyone. Per WTTW, Chicago is currently suing an Indiana gun store, Westforth Sports, for allegedly allowing hundreds of those types of purchases for guns that were used in crimes in the city.
When the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were given a chance to speak in Washington about the 17 people who were murdered at their school in 2018, they certainly advocated for stricter gun laws. However, they also made sure to put a focus on the low-income Black and Hispanic communities where gun violence happens more frequently. Because, no matter how the guns were purchased, they all originate from the same places and do the same horrific damage.
In less than two full weeks between a bigot killing 10 people a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and the tragedy in Uvalde, there was a murder at a church in Orange County, Calif., inspired by anti-Tawanese sentiment, a senseless killing at a Chicago McDonalds that stemmed from a fight, and a man who gunned down his wife and daughters in St. Clair County, Ala., before commiting suicide. And there were many more than that.
The Big Diesel is onto something, as were the youngsters in Parkland. Put everything together. Don’t separate these incidents from each other, because that’s how outrage dies until another event goes horrifically viral. All while the NRA stays steadfast in its belief that a gun should face less regulation than a box of cereal.
It’s impossible to stop people from being angry, abusive, damaged, impoverished, bigoted, brainwashed, or anything that gets someone in the mindset to kill a person. But as good of a step as H.R. 8 would be, so are like minded people uniting for a common cause. The NRA proved that it works and a 50-year-old, more thoughtful, Shaq wants people to apply those same principles but for good. There’s a lot of people in this country fed up with gun violence for a lot of different reasons. Let’s be outraged on each other’s behalf, to give this issue the fuel necessary so it doesn’t burn up so quickly after what happened in Uvalde is no longer a current event.