Shaquille O’Neal wants to make one thing clear: He doesn’t believe in crypto, if he ever did.

That’s after being named in a class-action lawsuit against now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX last month, for promoting the company in a June commercial.

In an interview with CNBC Make It this week, the 50-year-old businessman and Basketball Hall of Famer took questions about his relationship with FTX while discussing his other business ventures.

O’Neal has a long history of investing in companies he promotes, including his current enterprise, Shaq’s Fun House, an annual part-festival, part-carnival event. Those investments often pan out: O’Neal makes more off the court than he did as an NBA star, he told HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” in 2018.

But when it comes to FTX, he says, he was merely a celebrity in an ad.

“A lot of people think I’m involved, but I was just a paid spokesperson for a commercial,” O’Neal says.

FTX collapse ensnares celeb investors

On Tuesday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused FTX founder and former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried of orchestrating a “brazen” years-long fraud, misusing customer funds to benefit himself and his crypto hedge fund, Alameda Research.

Bankman-Fried was arrested on Monday by Bahamian authorities, likely leading to extradition and a U.S. trial, CNBC reported. He’ll face at least eight charges from federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, including several counts of conspiracy and fraud.

Customers have been unable to withdraw funds from FTX since the company declared bankruptcy last month. As many as one million creditors, according to an FTX bankruptcy filing, are unsure if they’ll ever get their money back.

The class-action lawsuit naming O’Neal is a legal proceeding separate from the federal government’s charges. It alleges that FTX’s spokespeople “either controlled, promoted, assisted in [or] actively participated” in a plot to “aggressively market” the company.

Other athletes and celebrities from FTX’s commercials — including Steph Curry, Tom Brady, and comedian Larry David — were also named in the lawsuit. Texas is now separately investigating some celebrity FTX endorsers for potentially violating state securities laws, according to Bloomberg.

‘I don’t understand [crypto], so I will probably stay away’

The ex-basketball star’s commercial was somewhat of a surprise: Last year, O’Neal told CNBC Make It that he was actively avoiding cryptocurrency.

“I don’t understand it, so I will probably stay away from it until I get a full understanding of what it is,” he said, adding: “From my experience, it is too good to be true.”

O’Neal told Front Office Sports last year that he’d declined promotional offers from various crypto entities.

“I always get these companies that say, ‘Hey, we’ll give you $900,000 in crypto to send out a tweet,'” O’Neal said. “So I have to say, ‘OK, if you’re going to give me a million dollars worth of crypto, then why do you need me?'”

He may have had a change of heart in late 2021, though: Over the past year, O’Neal changed his Twitter display name to “SHAQ.ETH” and “SHAQ.SOL” to promote NFT collections underpinned by the Ethereum and Solana cryptocurrency platforms.

“I’m excited to be partnering with FTX to help make crypto accessible to everyone,” O’Neal said in the June commercial. “I’m all in. Are you?”

Today, O’Neal cites his friendship with Curry as a reason he consented to appear in the ad. A spokesperson for Curry declined to comment.

In the ad, O’Neal told viewers that he checked his FTX account daily. But when asked now if he’s bullish on crypto, he offers a simple response: “No.”

“People know I’m very, very honest,” O’Neal says. “I have nothing to hide. If I was heavily involved, I would be at the forefront saying, ‘Hey.’ But I was just a paid spokesperson.”

It’s unclear how much money O’Neal made from his FTX endorsement deal. Investor and entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary, who also endorsed FTX and is named in the suit, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” last week that he was paid $15 million by FTX, and lost it all: $9.7 million that he’d invested with FTX, more than $1 million in FTX equity and approximately $4 million in taxes and agent fees.

O’Leary said the money he lost was his alone. “We need to get to the bottom of what happened at FTX, but we can’t let its collapse cause us to abandon the great promise and potential of crypto,” he testified to the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday.

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