The next time you're at the craps tables in Las Vegas, remember Shaquille O'Neal.
"Seven-come-11, Shaq Daddy needs new shoes."
As reported last week in Sports Illustrated, O'Neal's five-year, $15-million deal with Reebok expires at the end of this month.
O'Neal's agent, Leonard Armato, is negotiating with the company, but there is a very real possibility Reebok won't re-up.
In the not-so-distant past, when there was no business like shoe business for professional athletes, other companies would already have started lining up at Armato's door.
That's not happening now. With sneaker sales in decline, shoe companies can no longer justify lucrative contracts for athletes not named Michael Jordan or Ronaldo.
As a result, O'Neal may have to play next season barefoot.
"Are you kidding?" Armato asked when that possibility was mentioned to him Wednesday.
Of course, I was kidding.
What will happen, I'm pretty sure, is that you will walk into a Foot Locker store some day to buy sneakers and have to wait while this big kid tries on different pairs.
Without the $3 million a year from Reebok, he probably won't be able to afford Air Jordans.
Armato, not surprisingly, has a different plan to assure his client remains well-heeled.
"The great thing for Shaq is that Reebok has spent $50 million to $75 million over the last five years creating global brand awareness for Shaq," he said. "I think we can exploit that for his benefit."
Armato is reluctant to elaborate until negotiations are complete, but the general idea is that O'Neal will manufacture his own shoes.
Don't take that literally. If you've seen those documentaries about Asian sweatshops, you know a person has to be 14 or under to actually make athletic shoes.
But, according to Armato, O'Neal could produce his own signature brand, and, by becoming the middle man, sell them for a relatively reasonable price.
Armato wouldn't reveal names they are considering. "Air Shaqs" would be considered a rip-off.
A simple "Shaqs" works for me, like the old Chucks every kid used to covet before sneakers started coming with attachments other than shoestrings.
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