Shaquille O’Neal isn’t known for understated sartorial choices, so it came as something of a surprise when he arrived at his introductory press conference at the Celtics’ training facility in Waltham dressed conservatively in a pinstriped charcoal suit and a matching bow tie.
The message soon became apparent: The newest Celtic is intent on making a good first impression at his new job.
“I know a lot about the Celtics,” said the 38-year-old, who signed a two-year contract last week. “I know they sacrifice and play well together. The way I look at it is I have 730 days left in this game. I want to play together and play to win.”
Besides, the color of the day was green, not only when O’Neal held up his brand-new jersey adorned with the No. 36, but also when he quickly addressed whether one of the NBA’s most decorated players, a 15-time All-Star, will be able to fit in as a role player on a roster filled with veteran stars.
He was quick to assure that he will not be green with envy in his new role, and his words as he held up his jersey for the requisite photo opportunity seemed to symbolize the moment. Asked if it fit, Shaq smiled and said, “Oh, yeah.”
“This was a good team with or without me,” said O’Neal. “I don’t mind playing a role. I know where I am at this point in my career. It’s about coming to a team that is one or two pieces from a championship.”
O’Neal, who said he chose the number 36 — never previously worn in Celtics history — because he’s always had a number in the 30s and he’s with his sixth team — reiterated that he understands the situation and what is expected of him.
Then, referencing the Celtics earlier signing of free-agent center Jermaine O’Neal this offseason, he said, “All I know is there will be an O’Neal on the floor.”
O’Neal, one of the NBA’s most charismatic and lighthearted stars, generated a buzz in Boston upon his signing, particularly when he tweeted that he needed a new nickname in his new basketball home and challenged fans to come up with one. Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who O’Neal said convinced him of the benefits of joining the Celtics during a recent meeting in Italy, said, “I’m not sure what I’m going to call him yet. The Big Leprechaun. The Green Monster. We’re looking at him as another piece in the puzzle.”
O’Neal said he was favoring a popular choice in various polls: The Big Shamrock. And he also suggested the Big Green Mountain, but said, “I haven’t decided yet.” But the nickname chatter came after he made the point once more of how much he appreciates playing for a franchise of the Celtics tradition and how he recognizes the importance of being unselfish, to the point that he said he’d have no problem coming off the bench.
“If [being a role player] is what it takes to win and get to this level, it’s fine with me,” he said. “Boston always been a city with great tradition, a city that’s used to winning. I’m very honored to be here, franchise has a rich tradition of winning. It was not a tough decision.”
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Today’s press conference had a light vibe, and generally these types of events are monumentally hilarious when O’Neal is involved. Check the video below from his intro presser with the Cavs. Or take the shortcut and read this excerpt from Scott Raab’s story in Esquire this past June. He goes in pretty hard on Danny Ferry.
Shaq has a better joke: After being introduced by Cavs general manager Danny Ferry, his new boss, O’Neal says, “The great Danny Ferry — ’cause we all know Danny Ferry was a great player. A pretty good player. The other day, when I got the call from Danny Ferry, I was like, Danny Ferry, Danny Ferry. I had to check my computer to see who Danny Ferry was, and this is what came up on the Internet.”
And he unrolls a photo of Danny Ferry toward the end of his own 13-year NBA career, when he played for the Spurs, 10 or so years ago.
In the photograph, Ferry is bent forward, grasping a ball on the hardwood, a pasty, balding clod. Behind him, both huge hands splayed across Ferry’s back, his lower torso pressed to Ferry’s ass, stands the alpha dog, Dun Dada.
Sitting beside Shaq, Danny Ferry — who spent 10 years playing for the Cavs and was a pretty good player only if “pretty good” means utterly overmatched but ever willing to goon it up — laughs it off. It’s a safe bet that both Shaq and Danny recall the game in 1996 when Ferry and one of Shaq’s Orlando teammates brawled.
“There’s two kinds of dirty — dirty and sewer-dirty,” Shaq told the media after that game. “Danny Ferry is sewer-dirty and has been ever since he was at Duke.”
Chad Finn of the Globe staff contributed to this report.