Gauthier Mvumbi, Detroit Handball Ambassador
During the 2021 World Championships this past January, Gauthier Mvumbi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a media sensation and was christened the “Shaq of Handball”. This got the attention of Shaquille O’Neal and he even reached out to Mvumbi via Instagram. For a while Mvumbi was the darling of the handball media world, but I figured his 15 minutes was going to be up pretty soon.
Then a few weeks ago, Detroit Handball announced on social media that Mvumbi had agreed to be a handball ambassador for the club. I greeted this announcement with skepticism and, in part, it directly led to a recent podcast discussion on social media with Detroit Handball Club President, Joey Williams. During the podcast, I tried to get a straight answer as to just what this “ambassadorship” entailed, and from my perspective I never really got a satisfactory answer. Being somewhat old school, I wrote the whole thing off as pretty much attention for attention’s sake.
The Two Shaqs are Still Talking
But, then I read that the two Shaqs have continued their friendship and according to a recent interview in the French newspaper, L’Echo Republicaine, they are still in contact with each other. Further, Shaquille O’Neal apparently has some interesting in helping out handball in the U.S.
Here’s a translation of a portion of the interview
Gauthier Mvumbi, you will become the ambassador of US handball. Explain to us!
I will help promote handball in the United States, help its development. I will participate in internships, summer camps, gala matches. I will go back and forth, but I remain above all a handball player in France or in Europe.
In which big American city?
The Detroit club contacted me. In the near future, Shaquille O’Neal also wants to be involved and take on some responsibilities. Shaq would like to explore possibilities to help make handball more attractive in the U.S.; With a 5 year time frame.
Are you still in touch with the NBA star?
We talk to each other regularly. The plan is to go to the U.S. in July and meet each other in person. That will be something!
Shaquille O’Neal as a Handball Ambassador?
Shaq wants to help make handball more attractive in the U.S.? Wow! It true, that would be a godsend of epic proportions. A few years ago I highlighted what USA Team Handball should look for in terms of new Board Members. I identified a need for millionaires (or even better, billionaires) and handball gospel spreaders, who could help educate the U.S. Shaq would be both in one package.
Shaq made a small fortune as an athlete ($292M on salary alone) and he continues to add to that fortune as a pretty effective ad pitchman for a number of different products. He’s got a fair amount of cash that could be put to good use. With the USA Team Handball budget at around $500K he could effectively buy out the organization if he wanted to.
But, where he would really shine is as a handball pitchman. He has millions of followers on social media and one Tweet or IG post from his Shaqness would effectively reach more new fans and players than a year’s worth of carefully crafted social media campaigns from various handball outlets in the U.S. and world-wide.
How Shaq Could Help Handball in the U.S.
Shaq as an ambassador and proponent for the sport could be an epic game changer in so many ways. Here are just a few ways he could help out:
- Athlete recruiter: With a few targeted social media posts Shaq could reach hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of potential new handball athletes at all levels. Which, of course, would be really cool, but hopefully such a message could be coordinated with U.S. clubs nationwide so that they could be effectively prepared to engage with the new Shaq recruits.
- TV and Web Streaming advocate: There currently is no TV home for handball in the U.S. beIN Sports TV and ESPN+ have failed to meet expectations. Shaq works for TNT and coincidentally, play by play for the Olympics will be provided by Matt Winer with NBA TV. Both properties are owned by Turner Networks which has been bought out by AT&T and will now be combined into a new to be named conglomerate with Warner Media and Discovery. A new media behemoth which will likely have a new streaming platform.
- What if Shaq advocated for this new streaming platform to carry the EHF Champions League, the World Championships and other handball events?
- What if they had Shaq, Kenny, EJ and Charles Barkley do an Inside the EHF Champions League show? And, maybe Matt Winer (with his newfound handball experience) could replace EJ as he has done in the past. Yes, those guys know nothing about handball, but, trust me, it would still be really entertaining!
- Sponsor a college program: The interview states that Shaq wants to make the U.S. “Championnat” more attractive. Literally, that means the “National League” and the U.S. doesn’t actually have such a league. Our vast size and the amateur status of the sport pretty much makes that impossible and creating a pro or even a semi-pro league would require some major investment. While Shaq has the resource to create such a league, a more practical effort near term would be to beef up the U.S. collegiate competition. In particular, Shaq could support one college program with the intent of turning that program into a national power. As, I wrote last year a modest investment could very quickly create a national title contender. What college to choose, though? His alma mater, LSU is a candidate, but an HBCU would also be a possibility.
Earlier commentary: “What if Shaq had played handball?”: Link