If you’ve watched the TNT Network’s NBA coverage – and we know you have – you know that our man Shaquille O’Neal and broadcasting partner Charles Barkley don’t agree on much. But that’s what happened – a rare agreement between the two – on a recent broadcast. The subject: the play of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the words of Cavs coach John Beilein
Background: Seems that during a practise and film session Cavs coach Beilein told his team they were “playing like thugs.” Now, it’s not up to this reporter to be judge-and-jury about the use of the term. Fair? Unfair? Insulting? Who knows. You’ve no doubt heard the cliche, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Seems that was not to be the case in this incident.
Seems word got out about Beilein’s choice of words, and some of the Cavs players even complained about it to local reporters and on social media. At first, Coach Beilein said he meant to say “slugs,” and that he had to be told what he’d said by one of his assistant coaches…that he never intended to say the t-word.
Word of the incident took a few days to reach Atlanta and the TNT “Inside the NBA” program with Shaq, Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith. Both Shaq and Barkley took issue with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ response to John Beilein’s use of the word “thugs.”
Like we said… Beilein says he meant to say “slugs” and didn’t even realize the “mistake” until told about it afterward. Reports are that the team accepted the apology and didn’t believe he intended any malice. Still, that didn’t stop Shaq from criticizing them for the way they handled the matter.
“If you have to be apologized to for your coach callings you ‘thugs,’ you aren’t going to ever win. You’re soft, OK? Period,” said O’Neal, who played for the Cavs during the 2009-10 season. “They’re not playing like thugs, so I believe him when he said they’re playing like ‘slugs.’ Stop being so sensitive. I grew up in the 80s. I got called worse than ‘slugs’ [or ‘thugs’], trust me. So it [doesn’t] bother me.
Shaq put it succinctly: “Man up. That’s what I’m saying.”
Shaq’s broadcast team had much the same things to say. Former NBA guard Kenny Smith pointed out that Cleveland’s roster includes white players and added that he believes that saying a team was playing like “thugs” would actually be a compliment.
As for Barkley, the fellow Hall of Famer stepped up his defense of Beilein — and criticism of the Cavs players: “I’ve never heard a bad word about Coach Beilein, ever. Everybody knows everybody in basketball, I’ve never heard a bad word about him. And what makes me mad about this whole conversation is he says in his apology, ‘the coaches told me later that I said ‘thugs’ instead of ‘slugs.’
“Clearly the players — if they were offended, they would have said something, right? The players didn’t say anything when it exactly happened. He had to come back later and say, ‘I made a mistake.’ But none of the players said anything about it when it happened, so that tells me he just misspoke.”
Barkley said the Cavs have turned into what he called a “college-like” program. “With the exception of when LeBron James has been in Cleveland, in the last 10 years, you guys haven’t won over 20 games. So to be complaining about a coach who’s coming in and making you work on fundamentals when y’all stink, make y’all watch film, make y’all practice hard — this is starting to be a joke.”
Just for a little fact-checking, the Cavs did win 33 games in the 2013-14 season without LeBron… but no matter how you slice it…times have not been good in “The Land.” Both Shaq and Barkley said it seems the team may be trying to get their coach fired. “This was a move to try to get him released,” O’Neal speculated. We’ll see!