Shaq defends himself after being named in FTX lawsuit: ‘I was just a paid spokesperson’

Legendary former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal reacted over his inclusion in a class action lawsuit stemming from the implosion and bankruptcy of cryptocurrency trading exchange FTX, a major scandal that rocked the financial world after investors were robbed of billions of dollars with some seeking to hold accountable the celebrity pitchmen who hawked the platform.

Shaq, along with seven-time Super Bowl-winning NFL quarterback Tom Brady, his ex-wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, comic Larry David and tennis star and women’s tennis player Naomi Osaka and Golden State Warriors shooting marvel Steph Curry were among those named in the federal suit alleging that they were as culpable for the Ponzi scheme as disgraced cofounder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried who was arrested last week and is now cooling his heels in a Bahamian prison.

O’Neal downplayed the lawsuit, telling CNBC’s “Make It” that he was only being paid to promote FTX after previously admitting that he didn’t even know much about crypto.

“A lot of people think I’m involved, but I was just a paid spokesperson for a commercial,” he said.

The 50-year-old O’Neal who played for four championship teams during his pro basketball career and who is currently an analyst for TNT’s “Inside the NBA” appeared in the advertisement this summer as one of the exchange’s celebrity ambassadors, saying that he was “all in” for FTX.

“Hey, it’s Shaquille O’Neal and I’m excited to be partnering with FTX to help to make crypto accessible for everyone, I’m all in, are you?” he asked in the half-minute spot.

Last year, O’Neal told CNBC’s “Make It” that he was avoiding crypto and that he lacked an understanding of how it worked.

“I don’t understand it, so I will probably stay away from it until I get a full understanding of what it is,” O’Neal said, adding: “From my experience, it is too good to be true.”

Last year Shaq told Front Office Sports that he had turned down opportunities from crypto companies to promote their services.

“I always get these companies that say, ‘Hey, we’ll give you $900,000 in crypto to send out a tweet.’ So I have to say, ’OK, if you’re going to give me a million dollars worth of crypto, then why do you need me?’” he said. “A couple of my friends got caught up in a little scam like that one time.”

O’Neal is regarded as one of the best NBA players of all time and has found success as a businessman, rapper and television analyst in his post-basketball life.

A dominant force in college, O’Neal was drafted number one overall by the Orlando Magic in 1992 where he would be named rookie of the year, eventually leading the team to its first NBA finals appearance where it was swept by the Houston Rockets. He would go on to play for six teams during his storied career, a 15-time all-star who, after his retirement in 2011, hung up his cleats after playing for the Boston Celtics.

In addition to celebrity ads, FTX also had sponsorships and naming rights such as with the FTX Arena in Florida, home of the NBA’s Miami Heat. Miami-Dade County signed a 19-year, $135 million contract for the name last year.

“After an initial balloon payment of $14 million, FTX was scheduled to make a $5.5 million payment in January,” according to ESPN.

“The reports about FTX and its affiliates are extremely disappointing,” the Heat and the Florida county noted in a joint statement. “Miami-Dade County and the Miami HEAT are immediately taking action to terminate our business relationships with FTX. We will be working together to find a new naming rights partner for the arena.”

 

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