Live Casino owner David Cordish has gone for a big splash by using high-profile former athletes to promote his business. Live casino.
He and former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann once handed out $100 bills to random gamblers on the casino's anniversary. In April, Cordish and Hall of Fame Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer gave away Orioles-themed prizes at the gaming tables, including vouchers good for tickets to Opening Day.
Cordish couldn't have gone any bigger with his latest caper. He challenged — via Twitter — 7-foot-tall Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O'Neal to a free-throw shooting contest in Hanover.
"I doubt any casino owner has ever taken on anyone of Shaq's stature one-on-one," Cordish said. "That's kind of outside-the-box."
"I tried to talk him out of it," O'Neal said. "I told him, 'You don't want me to (come) in here and embarrass you.'"
The made-for-media event Thursday was part of the casino's 7 Lively Sins promotion, which runs through the end of the month. The opening night contest was part of the "pride" promotion and the wiry, 77-year-old Baltimore entrepreneur and the mammoth inside scoring force didn't waste any time before they started talking trash during the warm-up for the event.
"Are you ready to lose, David?" O'Neal called out as he walked into the room where the basket and faux foul lane was set up.
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"You're going down, Shaq!" replied Cordish with a laugh.
It did seem a bit like false bravado, though. O'Neal, listed as 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds during his playing days — which ended in 2011 — looked like he could have broken Cordish in half over his knee. The smack talk was all in good fun, of course.
"He's been one of my heroes for 20 years," said Cordish, who played lacrosse, not basketball, at City College in Baltimore in the late 1950s. "He's kind, he's outgoing, he's nice, he's friendly. I had to think of someone to do this with, and I thought of Mr. O'Neal. He was nice enough to come down."
Cordish has a basketball court at his house and demonstrated a smooth shooting stroke during the warm-up for the contest.
"I play more tennis than basketball, but I still play," he said.
O'Neal, meanwhile, was famously erratic from the line throughout his professional career. In fact, once he caught the ball close to the basket, opponents would simply foul him intentionally — the practice was known as "Hack-a-Shaq." While O'Neal was almost certain to score from close range, he was anything but a safe bet at the foul line. O'Neal made just 53 percent of his foul shots during a 19-year career, the league average is usually about 70 percent.
Good-natured barbs are a big part of O'Neal's life during basketball season. He serves as a studio analyst for the " NBA on TNT " program that airs before, during and after professional games on the cable television channel. To many, the best part of the show is the war of words continually being waged by O'Neal and equally outrageous and outspoken co-host, Charles Barkley.
Over the years, O'Neal has repeatedly teased Barkley about never winning an NBA title during his star-studded career. O'Neal, meanwhile, played on four NBA title teams. Barkley, as in his habit, always responds in kind.
"It's more of an older brother-younger brother love spat than dislike," O'Neal said. "Do I think he talks too much? Yes, I do. He does get under my skin. Sometimes I do want to punch him. Maybe that's what makes the dynamic of our show."
The massive O'Neal, who dominated the league with his size and strength, would stand out even more in today's NBA. With long-range sharpshooters like Stephen Curry firing away from 3-point range, big men in the post like O'Neal have assumed a lesser role in the game.
"I would do the same thing (now) that I did then. Throw the ball in the post, tire 'em out, get 'em in foul trouble, score a lot of points, dominate," said O'Neal, who won a pair of scoring titles and averaged 23.7 points per game in his career.
Oh, and there's another area in which he would match up with today's stars if he were still playing — his paycheck.
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"My bottom-line (salary) number would have be $50 million," he said with a smile.