Anthony Edwards Is the 21st Century Shaq

Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski (USA TODAY Sports)

Anthony Edwards might already be the most entertaining player in the NBA. The man won’t turn 21 for another two months and already has contributed a laundry list of viral moments in his two short years in the league. This summer, he’s taking things to a new level as one of the stars of a major movie that dropped on Netflix on Wednesday. With his foray into acting, his penchant for sharing videos of him rapping on Instagram live, and his talents on the court, Edwards is positioning himself as a modern-day Shaquille O’Neal — hopefully, with better results off the court.

Michael Jordan was the undisputed champion of the hardwood in the 1990s, but Shaq was the NBA’s most eclectic superstar. O’Neal was one of the 15-greatest basketball players ever to live. But The Big Aristotle made a name for himself early in his career as an okay rapper and lousy actor in some of the decade’s worst movies. Still, his media savvy and larger-than-life personality made him one of the biggest stars in the world.

After the Orlando Magic selected him first overall in 1992, Shaq released his first album in 1993 titled Shaq Diesel. The following year, he played Neon in “Blue Chips.” Shaq reached the height of his popularity with 1996’s cult classic “Kazaam,” where he plays a genie that comes out of a boombox, and 1997’s flop “Steel.” The latter movie was so bad that Shaq had to stop acting and began just showing up as himself in TV and movies for the next 25 years. The thing is, no one cared about how bad his movies were; they loved Shaq. He became an icon for taking big swings and occasionally missing spectacularly. Now, more than 25 years later, he’s built a lasting legacy because he was more than just a basketball player.

Anthony Edwards would be wise to follow in his footsteps.

Ant has already shown his acting chops in a few commercials this season, first as a security guard alongside Jarred Vanderbilt for Aura and then taking on Ja Morant in a “dunk contest” for Popeye’s. Ant is featuring in the major Netflix movie, “Hustle,” this week. It stars former teammate Juancho Hernangómez and Adam Sandler as an unheard-of Spanish prospect and the scout trying to get him to the NBA. Edwards plays Juancho’s on-court antagonist in it.

By all accounts, Edwards is fantastic in his role. That should come as no surprise. From the beginning, Ant told us that he’s great at pretty much anything. He’s already a better actor than Shaq could dream of being, so Edwards has unlimited potential on the big screen. He could be a one-hit-wonder like Ray Allen. Edwards could go the LeBron and MJ cash-grab route and make some schlocky studio flick with a billion-dollar toy deal. Or he could have some fun with it like Shaq did and become everyone’s favorite basketball player who also acts when he wants to.

It’s a big deal that Edwards made his big-screen debut in a big-budget Adam Sandler movie. Most players show up as themselves in an episode of “Entourage” or play themselves for two seconds in a shitty movie loosely based on the NBA. Edwards plays a version of himself, but he has to actually craft a character and do some real acting while he’s on screen. Like Kevin Garnett‘s opal worshipping role in “Uncut Gems,” Edwards has a lot to do, makes the role his own, and smashes it.

On top of becoming a budding movie star, Edwards has shown preternatural abilities as a young rapper. He’s pretty good in his Instagram Live videos, usually rapping along to his favorite songs in his car. He has also been rumored to be featured on albums in the future. The NBA is already full of good rappers, including Damian Lillard, but Edwards would bring his unique energy to whatever he did.

You have to be able to do more than one thing to be famous in 2022. YouTubers have entered the boxing ring, TV doctors think they can become politicians, and everyone you’ve ever heard of is coming out with a new podcast this summer. But Edwards is the triple threat that only Shaq has come close to in the past.

There’s no doubt Ant will be an NBA superstar sooner rather than later, but adding acting and rapping to his repertoire will only boost his global star appeal going forward. Like Shaq in the 90s, Ant has all the charm and talent to become one of the marquee entertainers of his generation. Working on movies with Adam Sandler and produced by LeBron James will open doors to him in both the entertainment and basketball worlds, and Ant is the perfect poster boy to build an entertainment empire around.

Basketball is just the tip of the iceberg for Edwards. As Shaq showed us almost 30 years ago, if you can dream it, you can do it. Shaq has done everything. He’s acted and rapped. He was involved in law enforcement. He became a headlining DJ and earned a doctorate. And he did all that while being one of the greatest athletes of our lifetimes and a staple on “Inside the NBA.”

Edwards would be lucky to have a sliver of the career Shaq built for himself, but if you want to bet on anyone to surpass Shaq’s popularity, my money is on Edwards. By the end of his second season, he’s quickly become one of the most popular players in the NBA. He’s got the personality, talent, and, most importantly, the belief that he can do anything he wants. We’ve talked in circles for the last two years, trying to compare Edwards to every NBA player. We’ve said he’s the next Dwyane Wade and the next Dion Waiters. But when all is all said and done, Shaquille O’Neal is the player he should model his career after.

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