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Shaquille O’Neal had a chaotic start when he first joined Inside the NBA crew (2012). He once famously dubbed Spanish player Ricky Rubio as “The Italian Pete Maravich.” He was even portrayed in a Saturday Night Live parody when Kenan Thompson joked, “Oh yeah, he’s got four rings, and it sounds like they’re all stuck in his throat,” making fun of his lack of clarity of speech. Building merit took years but Shaq replaced Chris Webber the following season and has been with TNT ever since.

Despite his difficult start as an analyst, Shaq’s natural entertainment factor got him tenure on the popular and he has been going strong for over a decade. But before Shaq joined the cast in 2012, there were others who occupied the hot seat on TNT.

Magic Johnson, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber were a part of Inside NBA before Shaquille O’Neal

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When Inside the NBA, now considered greatest sports studio show of all time,’ first premiered in 1989, it had a changing rotation of analysts and hosts till Ernie Johnson became a permanent fixture in 1991. The Godfather got his first permanent analyst in 1998 when Kenny Smith went from guest to regular. While Charles Barkley was playing his final season, it was announced he was going to be the third permanent analyst at TNT in 2000. The next one came in the form of Magic Johnson in 2003.

It was a new move for Magic who had retired about 7 years earlier and was involved in multiple off-court ventures. This included owning multiple Starbucks stores, gyms, theatres, restaurants, and fast food chains among others. But as an analyst, even his megawatt smile didn’t impress. His commentary wasn’t deviant like his protégé who took over nearly a decade later. He lacked a bit of a punch and he wasn’t unfiltered like Chuck either.

He parted ways with TNT in 2007 and hopped over to ESPN. That didn’t last long, and Magic never resumed a career as a studio analyst again. He now slips in his analysis in congratulatory posts on X while keeping up as a multi-sport team owner.

TNT then turned to former Pacers icon Reggie Miller and former Sacramento King player Chris Webber. They held the role interchangeably after Magic left from 2008 to 2011.

These days Miller can stir the pot but back in the day, he was a pretty decent analyst. When he was not in Studio J, he was on the sidelines, wearing his headset and calling games. Before the 2011 season began, he transitioned to play-by-play full-time.

There on, he also went on to work as an analyst for NCAA Men’s Basketball alongside TNT and as Awful Announcing puts it, came to be known for ‘nearly everyone watching thinking he’s rooting for the other team.’ The former shooting guard takes it as a compliment. “I’ve done my job,” he says.

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Chris Webber also left Inside the NBA in 2011. Webb was moved to the commentary team for both the NBA and NCAA. He, however, remained at TNT till 2021 in other roles until he reportedly, refused to participate in March Madness due to COVID.

Notably, for a brief time, Celtics legend Kevin McHale also appeared as an analyst on Inside the NBA, having joined the TNT network during the 2009–2010 regular season. He began an on-air, floor-side analyst and occasionally made appearances in the studio alongside the other cast members.

However, TNT needed someone with mass appeal factor and as such Inside the NBA went for its biggest (quite literally) acquisition.

TNT’s Shaq gamble paid off as Shaq rose above his chaotic start as analyst

A TNT talent executive was stunned to find out that Shaquille O’Neal was retiring in 2011. She went to his retirement presser in Orlando and laid the groundwork for a TNT gig through his agent. Shaq revealed on The Big Podcast recently that he was not entertaining the offers till he spent a few months bored. Before the 2011 regular season began, TNT announced Shaquille O’Neal as the fourth analyst on Inside the NBA.

With Shaq came the segment, Shaqtin’ a Fool. His first season as an analyst was chaotic, rife with Shaq math and self-produced sound effects. He made wild comments as an NBA player but as an analyst, those comments were hard to stomach. He was even roasted to oblivion when Chuck played him on SNL.

His difficulty in enunciating his speech led to the SNL segment with Kenan Thompson. Moreover, just a few weeks into his new career, Shaq forgot that his microphone was still on as the show went into a commercial break and started talking to the rest of the cast and during the conversation the word “sh*t” was clearly uttered.

Yet he was back the next season. His long-term potential was enough for Turner to sign all four of them to multi-year contract extensions in 2015.

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Interestingly, this contract earned him $1.5 million to $2 million, nearly at par with his colleagues, though they had decades over him. If we consider the higher end, Shaq earned $14 million between 2016 and 2022, a nice chunk of change after earning over $200 million through the NBA and endorsements.

Either Shaq has learned to become a better studio analyst or his antics grew on us. His chemistry with the others – whether arguing with Chuck, throwing Kenny in the race, or completing Ernie’s sentences – is irreplaceable. He has continued to entertain the fans on the show as well by at times eating the world’s hottest chip live on air or debating gas prices.

Hence, it made sense when TNT renewed their contracts once more in 2022. These contracts would be valid for 10 years, beyond the expiration of the NBA media rights, but at least Shaq and Chuck have clauses to opt out early. Shaq’s contract is reportedly worth $100 million, paying him $10 million annually. But now a shadow hangs over Inside the NBA’s future.

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NBA has decided to share its media rights in a three part deal. Amazon Prime and ESPN have been reported to have secured the first two parts which has left TNT in a battle with NBC. It is also reported that NBA signing with NBC is a done deal, with Comcast (NBC’s parent company) prepared to fork out $2.5 billion to secure the rights, the number being double that TNT paid the league as part of its latest deal.

Even though Charles Barkley appeared worried about the show’s future, Shaq sounds confident. He said, “I don’t know [about the show’s future], but hopefully David Zaslav will take care of business, I’m sure he will. I think we’re in a great spot right now.” Still, he understands that NBA’s stint on TNT might be coming to an end. What does that mean for Shaq?

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Well, a big name like him will be difficult to keep off TV and having made his presence and name in media for the last decade as an analyst, there would be some networks interested in acquiring his services. But for now the former NBA Champion is hoping things work out for him and his fellow analysts.

Shaq has touted Inside the NBA for its rightful cultural relevance as a big advantage in NBA media rights. He prefers to remain secure that his job will remain with Chuck, Ernie, and Kenny, who together have managed to pull in millions of views every week. Now we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed and wait.