As the Television Critics Association mixer neared, ABC said there were a few additions. One was Shaquille O'Neal.
"Will he be wearing a name tag?" I asked.
That wasn't really needed, of course. Shaq is listed at 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds, but seems bigger. He's not the tallest person I've interviewed -- the late Kevin Peter Hall was 7-foot-2 -- but he's close. Since he talks quietly -- and from well above my ears -- the tough part was simply hearing everything. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
LOS ANGELES – When you imagine a
spelling bee, you might think of little kids with big glasses and big
You don;t think of Shaq.
Still, Shaquille O'Neal says he did
well in his childhood bee. “I finished second,” he said. “I
almost got to go to Washington, D.C.”
Now he has a second chance. When “Shaq
vs.” returns Tuesday (Aug. 3), he'll compete with the 15-year-old
National Spelling Bee champion.
O'Neal was talking about this Sunday
night, at an ABC mixer with the Television Critics Association. For
reporters, it was a chance for quick one-on-one interviews – amid
Listed as 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds,
O'Neal was dressed elegantly – dark suitcoat, dark vest, bow tie –
and talk\ed quietly. Arms stretched upward, to get tape-recorders
close enough to catch him.
No longer with the Cleveland Cavaliers
– who also lost LeBron James between seasons – he isn't sure
where he'll play basketball this season. His four NBA championships
(and three most-valuable-player awards in the finals) are now six
years behind him. During the recent play-offs, he was (at 38), the
oldest man in the league.
What he does know is that ABC has been
his summer home. First was “Shaq's Big Challenge,” in which he
pushed kids to exercise … and schools to re-instate physical
“It's getting worse,” O'Neal said.
“A lot of schools are cutting out their programs. When we were
young, our parents would say, 'Go outside and play.' Now there's
technology and videogames.”
Last summer, “Shaq vs.” had O'Neal
facing athletes in their own events. Now the show expands to an hour
and includes two things – one non-physical. O'Neal spells in the
opener, does magic a week later.
Still, the physical challenges may be
the biggest draw. In the opener, O'Neal races against NASCAR driver
Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It was terrifying,” he said.
He had a special car built that he
could fit into. “You have six seatbelts, but it's still scary.”
It was the toughest thing he's faced,
he said – even scarier than facing a spelling-bee champion.
– Shaq. Vs.,” 9:01 to 10 p.m.
Tuesdays, ABC; most stations will rerun it at 3 p.m. Saturdays.
– Opener (Aug. 3) has Shaquille
O'Neal facing racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. and spelling-bee champion
Kavya Shivashankar; second week has 150-pound boxer Shane Mosley and
– Other weeks will include singer
Justin Bieber, chef Rachael Ray and hot-dog eater Joey Chestnut.