The center of it all
The original basketball wife, Shaunie O’Neal, is back with a new show about her children
By now, you’ve seen that Shaunie O’Neal currently has two shows on VH1 — one where she’s in the midst of a circle of women who share in common that they were, at one point, attached to a man who was a professional basketball player; the other show features the four children she has with ex-husband and NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal.
O’Neal created Basketball Wives five years ago. She still executive produces the show, which has of course caused a wee bit of controversy, given that the cast members sometimes — ahem, oftentimes — fight it out on national TV. In its initial conception, this was supposed to be a show that highlighted a sororal camaraderie between women who have (at least from the outside looking in) lived the highest of lives, and privately, in some cases, experienced the deepest of emotional lows.
“Starting out, it wasn’t meant to be like, ‘Ooh, let’s show all these trials and tribulations we go through,’ you know what I mean? It was more so to showcase that we all weren’t just sitting on our butts and showing up to games and just not doing anything with ourselves,” O’Neal said. “We dealt with real-life stuff — bad relationships, businesses end up closing down. And whatever went wrong, it happens, and that’s real. And I actually really appreciate these ladies for even giving that because they didn’t have to. Evelyn [Lozada] shared so much with us … Tami [Roman], same thing. Tami went from really, really struggling … and came on the show and showed us all of that. I appreciate it, because it’s real … It’s not … like, ‘OK, get in a relationship and let him dog you out on TV.’ We’re not doing that.”
But it became something else — and if folks are being all the way honest, they were here for the water glasses and champagne bottles getting tossed in faces. Jumping across tables to grab at a frenemy in public spaces. Incidents like that entertained a record high of 4.2 million viewers who tuned in during a tumultuous fight in 2011. And as the women become more famous, the melodrama became far more intense. Everybody had questions — and criticism.
O’Neal had answers.
“They’re a little harder on us, for whatever reason … but there’s nothing going on in Basketball Wives that isn’t going on with Real Housewives of New York. Hell, most of the time I think we’re a lot tamer,” she said, laughing. “And sometimes, honestly I agree [with the critics]. It’s not a proud moment for me [when we’re fighting]. Did it happen? Yes. Do you expect VH1 to leave that on the cutting room floor? Absolutely not.” She said though, that she’s not a puppeteer. “Our show, it’s a 110 percent real.”
O’Neal loves the kids, though. Especially and of course, her kids. After coming to a place of agreement with her ex-husband, the world is getting to know the next crop of O’Neals on VH1’s Shaunie’s Home Court. “My kids,” she said, “grew up kind of on camera and in the public eye. It was because of their dad, so it wasn’t something that was totally brand-new to us.” But the kids were little back then. She said she discussed it with Shaquille O’Neal a lot. “Fifty times,” she says with a laugh. “We have one that’s 10, but everybody else is a teenager. [This show] is super-real all the time because this is really me, you know? Basketball Wives is like 2 percent of my life.”
Not that she’s stepped away from the train wrecks — her words — that happen on Basketball Wives completely. If you’re locked in this current season, you see that she’s been in environments where she’s had to raise her voice a time or two. Or three.
“Don’t get me wrong. We’ve been put in situations [where] I act out of my character, but it is a real character, but it probably wasn’t the best representation that I would have liked to portray on television at the time,” she said. “But … I think even in that, it was just a learning experience.” And working behind the scenes in TV production has made her more confident.
“I’ve been more confident in stepping in the ring and pitching my ideas and knowing that I have a very successful franchise that’s lasted this long,” she said. “It’s made me a little bit more creative, I’m going to branch out — sitcoms and movies. I’m superproud of [Basketball Wives] and it definitely got me into a lot of doors, but there’s so much more that I want to do — and I know I can do.”