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Basketball's Shaquille O'Neal takes stake in Sacramento Kings

Former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal speaks at a memorial service for the late Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss in Los Angeles, February
Former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal speaks at a memorial service for the late Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss in Los Angeles, February

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Former basketball star Shaquille O'Neal has become the newest minority owner of the Sacramento Kings, which California investors bought in May after a tug-of-war with a Seattle group, a team spokeswoman said on Monday.

O'Neal now holds a minority stake of the Kings and will be introduced as the newest of the basketball team's owners at a practice facility in California's capital on Tuesday, said Kings spokeswoman Donna Schwartze.

She declined to give further details ahead of Tuesday's event, including the size of the stake or what role O'Neal might play with the team.

A basketball player turned rapper and sports analyst, O'Neal joins an ownership group led by tech developer and philanthropist Vivek Ranadive, which bought a 65 percent stake in the Kings in a deal valuing the team at $535 million.

The group formed after the Kings' previous owners, the wealthy Maloof family, agreed in January to sell the team to a handful of Seattle investors, including hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, who planned to relocate the team to their Pacific Northwest city.

In May, following months of bidding, the National Basketball Association denied Seattle's proposal and the Maloofs struck a deal with the local investor group to keep the Kings in place.

O'Neal, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers and a host of other teams including the Miami Heat, agreed in June to tutor Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and act as an informal adviser to the team.

The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) last week named the Kings as the worst franchise in professional sports based on the team's rankings. The 2013-14 NBA season tips off on October 29.

In response, the Kings posted a banner on its official website that said, "Hey ESPN… Nice Airball" with the tagline "New Era, New Swagger."

"We love ESPN, but think they could have given us the benefit of foresight in their rankings," said Kings President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Granger. "They know what we have going here."

USA Today quoted O'Neal as responding by saying the only direction the Kings have to go now is up.

"Worst is at the bottom, which means you can't get no worser," he said. "There's no such thing as worser, which means we can only get better. And we will get better. Once that new arena comes, once that new downtown is up, once we have a conversation with the players and get everybody to step up, they'll be knocking on the door."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)