When you're talking about a guy named Shaquille O'Neal, who's made somewhere north of $290 million in his NBA career from basketball alone, not to mention endorsements, it's easy to believe that his career decisions are no longer about the money.
Shaq has enough cash to last him the rest of his life. And his kids, and their kids, and their kids, and so on. So if he's only making a little over $1.3 million with the Celtics this season, having agreed to a contract at the veteran's minimum, that's probably not the end of the world for The Big Earner.
But when he says that he could have earned millions more elsewhere? Well, that's a double-edged sword.
In an interview this weekend with The Times Picayune in New Orleans, O'Neal explained that he didn't mind getting the small paycheck from the Celtics this summer, setting the record straight on his priorities at this point in his career.
"A lot of people said I only got the league minimum salary, but that’s all right," he said. "I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’ve had four max contracts in one lifetime, I don’t care about that little million. Did I want $10 million? I’m always going to put the number high. I could have gotten $8 million from Atlanta and Detroit, but it wasn’t about that. It was about being somewhere and being seen and winning."
You can take that quote one of two ways.
On one hand, you never want to let the Celtics' team concept get infiltrated by one guy with an ego too big. And if Shaq starts thinking that he's an $8 million guy, that kind of mind-set might be toxic in the Celtics' locker room.
That cool $8 mil is a lot of money in today's NBA economy. The NBA's mid-level exception, which is tied to the league's annual salary each season, was set at $5.8 million for this summer. That's how much Jermaine O'Neal is making in Boston this season. For Shaq to expect significantly more than that seems … well, a little off.
The Pistons already have three guys making more than that $8 million figure — Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Gordon. The Hawks have three of their own — Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford. If it seems infeasible for either team to add another monster earner when they're already well over the cap, that's because it is.
If Shaq starts overestimating his own value in terms of dollars and cents, there's a danger of him doing it on the basketball court, too. He might start wanting more minutes and more touches, throwing a wrench into the Celtics' carefully crafted team concept. By limiting Shaq to the minimum salary, they nipped that one in the bud.
But here's the other way to look at Shaq's line of thinking: By bypassing these mythical millions and coming to Boston on the cheap, he's proving that he's in it for the right reasons.
Shaq's here for his legacy. He wants to be a part of the rich basketball history in Boston — when he's remembered as one of the all-time greats, he'll be remembered as a member of an all-time great franchise.
He's here for the rivalry. He was once a Laker, and now he's turned against Kobe Bryant and the purple and gold. As a Celtic, he can exact his revenge on the biggest stage.
He's here to be a celebrity in Boston. We've had legendary athletes in this town before — Ted Williams, Larry Bird, Bobby Orr — but none have brought the larger-than-life personality that Shaq does. He's about to bring a whole new kind of celebrity to the Hub.
But above all else, Shaq is in Boston because he wants to win. He's already got four titles under his belt, but he's still got that competitive fire. He still wants more.
Forget about the money — Shaquille O'Neal is here to win another championship. You can never put a price tag on that.