The Big Paycut: Will Shaq Accept?

The Big Paycut: Will Shaq Accept?

Published Jul. 22, 2010 5:14 p.m. ET

By John Manasso

July 22, 2010

He may be denigrated for declining skills but there is no doubting the man's bank account.

In its list of the 50 highest-earning professional athletes in the United States, ranks Shaquille O'Neal at No. 6
with a 2009 income of $36 million. That left Shaq outranked by only one
NBA player, his '09-'10 teammate with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron

Almost half of Shaq's income was listed as coming from
endorsement deals ($15 million) but he still made $21 million last
season. Therein could lie the Hawks' problem in trying to sign him.

Forget about playing time and his role on the team -- and those could be real issues -- a recent report indicates that no team, including the Hawks, wants to pay Shaq
more than $2 million. If you could see me right now, I'm holding my
hands out as if to mime scales, moving them up and down. On one side we
have Shaq's 2009-10 salary of $21 million. On the other, 2010-11 offers
of $2 million. Clank!

Yes, taking a pay cut of more than 90 percent would hurt anyone, including someone like Shaq with big everything. (Here's a list of
some of his nicknames that include the "Big" moniker: The Big
Aristotle, The Big Daddy, The Big Agave.) With all of that bigness
comes Big Ego and Big Pride and that translates into a reticence to
accept The Big Paycut.

But athletic careers and earning power
don't last forever and so Shaq must decide what he wants to do. I'm
guessing that if Shaq takes a deal for $2 million that $15 million in
endorsements will still be there. The man has spent 18 years building
his brand and has hardly done anything to damage it in the way that
LeBron did with his now infamous one-hour special of a few weeks back.

top NBA scribes are writing that he has almost no options, that the
Hawks might be the only team interested in his services. So that leaves
him only one other option: retirement.

Another pro athlete of
similar age and accomplishment is pondering a similar situation, the
NHL's Mike Modano. Modano, arguably the greatest American-born hockey
player (although my heart still gives that nod to Brian Leetch), is 40
and can still play a little, maybe even more than Shaq can play
basketball. The Livonia, Mich., native is contemplating whether to accept a one-year, $1.25-million offer from the Detroit Red Wings or to simply retire.

are the types of problems that mere mortals have a hard time
comprehending: accept a few million dollars to play a game or not to
play at all and get paid zero. Here's wondering aloud as to whether
Shaq's endorsement money will decline if he elects to retire. I'm going
to say yes, although he has built such a well known persona that it's
hard to see it falling off a cliff. Might that be enough to push him in
the direction of accepting less money?

For now, there appears to
be no rush on either side. NBA camps won't open for more than two
months. That's plenty of time for the Big Aristotle to contemplate his
big decision and for the Hawks to decide if they want to up the ante.

To play or not to play? At least in Atlanta, any way, that is the question.