Inside His Catch-Me-If-You-Can Delay Strategy
It’s hard to miss NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal because he’s 7-feet, one-inch tall and his face is seemingly everywhere on TV commercials, endorsements and NBA news coverage. But process servers hired to notify Shaq that he is being sued haven’t been able to find or reach him for months, leading to accusations that he is trying to evade the law.
O’Neal is one of at least nine celebrity endorsers, including Steph Curry and Naomi Osaka, who appeared in advertisements and have been named in a class-action lawsuit filed in November by investors against the collapsed FTX cryptocurrency exchange.
Participants in the lawsuit claim they were encouraged to invest their money in FTX because of public endorsements from celebrities like O’Neal in what turned out to be a very bad deal.
Now they want to hold the celebrity endorsers of FTX financially responsible for luring them in.
Until its bankruptcy filing on Nov. 11, 2022, FTX was one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges and one of the most aggressive at marketing digital currencies to the masses, Washington Post reported. FTX partnered with National Basketball Association teams, had patches on Major League Baseball umpire uniforms and the naming rights to the Miami Heat arena. It ran big TV ads during NBA and National Football League games, including last the 2022 Super Bowl, with celebrities eddorsing FTX as a safe place to invest.
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Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the class action suit say they’ve had no luck serving O’Neal at his homes and studio and they’ve accused him of dodging them, Wall Street Journal reported. They even threw legal papers at his SUV as he drove away.
O’Neal said that he simply “drove past the strangers lurking outside his home.”
Lawyers went on social media in April trying several different approaches including trying to shame Shaq into being served and begging him to make himself available so they can serve him.
Being properly served in a lawsuit usually requires an authorized server to personally deliver a paper copy of the summons and complaint.
Process servers don’t wear signs or labels identifying themselves as such because no one wants to be served. In the movie “Pineapple Express,” actor Seth Rogen plays a server who keeps a trunkful of disguises. Job postings for the profession often recommend surveillance skills and promise spending lots of time in the car.
O’Neal disputes the claims that he’s evading process servers, and has asked a judge to dismiss the case against him. That motion was denied on May 15. He also denied he had been served after some news outlets reported to the contrary.
In a December CNBC interview, O’Neal denied being anything more than a paid spokesman for FTX. “A lot of people think I’m involved,” he said.
Other celebrity defendants including Larry David, Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen, have also contested the claims against them, and asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
All other celebrities named in the class-action lawsuit have been served, with Shaq the last big name to avoid the process, attorneys alleged in a motion asking to serve the “Inside the NBA” analyst electronically.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs asked a Florida judge if they could serve O’Neal electronically via direct message on Twitter and Instagram. The judge called the request “frivolous.”
The motion claims that a process server has tried to serve O’Neal dozens of times at his Texas and Georgia homes, and via mail to his offices in Atlanta, where “Inside the NBA” is broadcast from.
In April, lawyers tweeted at O’Neal, “We have been standing outside your TNT studios in Atlanta all week, but your security guards will not let us in.”
With a net worth of $400 million and a salary of $60 million, Shaq is one of the richest atletes in the world.
Bankruptcy filings state FTX could owe money to around 1 million people. “The company is short $8 billion and there’s only two conceivable categories of explanation for what happened to that $8 billion,” said Charlie Gerstein, an attorney with the firm Gerstein Harrow, which filed class action lawsuits against other cryptocurrency companies. “The first is they traded it in speculative investments and lost it. Or they stole it.”