The American basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal has defended his appearance in ads for the collapsed cryptocurrency firm FTX, arguing he was “just a paid spokesperson”.
The NBA star turned television analyst was named in a class-action lawsuit against the exchange last month, which alleged stars who promoted the platform brought it credibility.
It argues that the likes of O’Neal, NFL veteran Tom Brady, comedian Larry David and tennis player Naomi Osaka were therefore just as culpable as Sam Bankman-Fried, the FTX founder, who has been charged over its downfall.
O’Neal, who appeared in an ad for the company in June, has insisted he had no real involvement.
“A lot of people think I’m involved, but I was just a paid spokesperson for a commercial,” he told CNBC Make It.
He added that “from my experience, it [crypto] is too good to be true”.
“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.
How did FTX leverage star power?
Key to FTX becoming one of the world’s biggest digital currency exchanges was its simple interface, making it easy and simple for people to start buying cryptocurrencies using traditional money.
Its rise with the unconventional Bankman-Fried at the helm took it to a peak value of $26bn (£21bn), as it secured naming rights for sports stadiums and a growing list of celebrity endorsements.
In a June advert, O’Neal said he was “partnering with FTX to help make crypto accessible to everyone”.
Telling viewers he checked his FTX account every day, he added: “I’m all in. Are you?”
O’Neal, 50, told CNBC he was not “heavily involved” with the company or cryptocurrency in general.
“People know I’m very, very honest. I have nothing to hide,” he said.
“If I was heavily involved, I would be at the forefront saying, ‘Hey’. But I was just a paid spokesperson.”
He added that he had turned down other offers to endorse cryptocurrencies, which are facing calls for increased regulation as governments respond to the FTX crisis.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission labelled it “one of the biggest financial frauds in American history”, leaving Bankman-Fried facing a maximum sentence of 115 years in prison if convicted on all eight counts of fraud and violating campaign finance laws.
The lawsuit that names FTX’s celebrity endorsers has been filed in the southern district of Florida.
It alleges that the company’s use of “some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment” had helped “keep the whole scheme afloat”.