Shaquille O’Neal Reveals the “1 Man” He Called Before Heading to Lakers: “I Didn’t Call My Mama, I Didn’t Call My Dad…”

Published 02/08/2024, 12:57 AM EST

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Four years into an outstanding start in the NBA, Shaquille O’Neal got the opportunity he was waiting for. He was set to make millions for signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, making it one of the most significant free agent signings in the ’90s. It beckoned the start of the future dynasty after the reign of the Chicago Bulls. What spurred Shaq to jump at the chance of making history was a conversation with his idol.

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NBA royalty Julius “Dr J” Erving was on The Big Podcast advocating for bringing back the entertainment and thrills into the NBA dunk contest. O’Neal agreed with him saying that making the sport exciting was the biggest lesson he took from Erving when he went from Orlando Magic to the Lakers. “When I was in Orlando, a lot of people don’t know this, and I was getting ready to leave who you think I called? I only called one man. I didn’t call my mom, I didn’t call my Daddy, I called one man.” He referred to Dr J, “This man right here.

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As history goes, a young Shaq led Magic farthest than it ever had gone, including beating the Michael Jordan-led Bulls in the ECF and heading to the Finals before losing to Houston in 1995. He wanted to negotiate a better deal with Orlando but when that didn’t work, he became a free agent. ‘Mr Logo’ Jerry West swooped the free agent to the Lakers on a $120 million deal in 1996, bigger than any salary Shaq had earned before. The opportunity also came with a better shot at O’Neal’s first title alongside the new draft pick, Kobe Bryant.

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Shaq called Dr. J to get assurance that he was making the right decision. “I said, ‘Doc I got an opportunity, they not doing this…” After filling him, Erving told him to “follow your heart.” That was only the surface of Erving’s impact on Shaq.

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Shaq’s reliance on Dr. J

O’Neal went from idolizing Dr. J from a distance to his neighbor in Orlando. He became close to Shaq and his parents during his time with the Magic. It made sense for O’Neal to talk about his contract negotiations with Erving.

Orlando didn’t think Shaq was worth the pay raise but the Lakers did. He was afraid many would say he was “chasing the money.” But Erving told him, “Get your money but at least respect the game.

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That was enough for O’Neal to take the deal. He’d go on to three-peat from 2000 to 2002, earn millions along the way, but most importantly make the NBA a thrilling watch. Exactly as Erving wanted.

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Written by:

Caroline John

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I was 7 when I saw 'Space Jam' but didn't know till the third rewatch the lead actor is actually a living basketball legend. It was while studying journalism that my friend would go on about the Warriors from Golden State. Keen on athletes' personas outside their arenas, it was Stephen Curry's confidence and philanthropy that drew me to follow the news on NBA pros and explore sports media.
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Edited by:

Pragya Vashisth

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