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THE INSIDE TRACK | SUNDAY PROFILE / THOMAS BONK

Shaq's Megabucks Aren't a Big Deal Across the Pond

July 21, 1996|Thomas Bonk

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Here on the Lancashire Coast, the news moved quickly, like a runaway tea cart. Shaquille O'Neal, whoever that is, had signed with the Lakers, whoever they are.

From Great Plumpton to Woodplumpton, from Freckleton to Treales, from Staining to Catforth, the news was on everyone's lips. Either that, or a pint of Tennant's Extra lager.

The last time anything bigger happened around here, it probably was when the train from Preston jumped the tracks at the Ansdell and Fairhaven railway station, flattening a row of bushes.

In Scorton and Forton, in Elswick, Esprick and St. Michael's on Wyre, Shaquille O'Neal's elevation to the lofty status of mega-millionaire didn't seem all that important.

Call it a difference in culture, or because we're in a foreign country or because part-time genies deserve a raise, but Shaq's $120-million contract with the Lakers wasn't really big news around here.

Clearly it wasn't as big as Diana and the Duchess of York heading off to the south of France for a little vacation. And it was nowhere near as widely reported as the case of the two cricket players who are battling it out in court in a libel case after one accused the other of scuffing cricket balls.

Perhaps England's daily newspapers set the decidedly understated tone for the O'Neal reaction with their dispatches from Atlanta.

The Daily Mail's headline on a one-paragraph report read "O'Neal Finds His $120M American Dream."

The Mail speculated that the Lakers held an advantage over Orlando in the contract negotiations because O'Neal's "secondary careers" as rap singer and movie star could be enhanced by playing "near Hollywood."

But here in the borough of Fylde, the main issue before the general public seemed to concern the extent to which O'Neal managed to enhance his net worth.

You know, this is a country where there's a lot you can do with $120 million, like maybe buy Big Ben and rename it Shaq Time. Or get those Crown Jewels, melt them down and make a nice gold chain out of them.

It may be that the English are simply having a hard time relating to all that money, which probably is understandable.

If you think about it, 120 million of anything is a lot. In something of an odd coincidence, it happens to be the exact number of traffic circles on the roads here.

James Lawton of the Daily Express devoted his entire Atlanta Diary to O'Neal's signing. Apparently, he didn't think much of it, judging by the headline on his story: "Shaq Stack Proves New Ode to Greed"

Lawton sounded as if he knows something about basketball, though, when he offered an observation about O'Neal as a player:

"He is big and strong and has an unerring instinct for catching the ball, warding off defenders and planting the ball through the hoop."

Hey, that's got to be a $120-million job description if there ever was one.

Andrew Longmore of the London Times said Dream teamer O'Neal represented the "true symbol of the modern Olympics," which would be money, naturally.

Not all of the cream of the crop of English journalism concerned itself with O'Neal. Many found other things to write about, among them lead sports columnist Ian Woolridge of the Daily Mail.

In Atlanta for the Olympics, Woolridge began his column about, well, what was it about again?

Wrote Woolridge: "Among the wooded slopes of Atlanta's most expensive residential enclave stands the home of Mr. and Mrs. David Wright. He is Her Britannic Majesty's Consul General here and she is a superb hostess."

Whew, that's a relief. As it turns out, what Woolridge was writing about was a party he went to in honor of the English equestrian team. He must have had a good time, basically because he ignored everything else in the world just so he could write about a cocktail party.

Woolridge devoted a few words of his story to the hors d'oeuvres, but not a single one to Shaq. Talk about perspective.

From newspapers to public opinion, there was a noticeable lack of Shaq, all right. Maybe there's something lost in the translation, you know, from English to English.

Maybe, for the sake of argument, Shaq simply doesn't translate. There aren't any "Shaqs" in this country, but there are cottages. And with the money O'Neal is making, they may start calling him Mansion right now.

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