More stories like this will be leaking out as reporters ask teammates to reminisce about the force known as The Big Aristotle or The Big Shaqtus, or Son of Ja’Rel, or The Big Shamrock, or Shaq-Fu… you get the picture.
Shaquille O’Neal was famed for his gregariousness with the media and his fun-loving attitude. He seemed always good for a quote or some hilarious anecdote. Off the court, everyone knew about his charitable work (Shaq-a-Claus is still an event wherever Shaq is), ambitions to work with police and occasional Kobe-bashing.
Still, very few people know of all O’Neal did in the locker room for teammates and what kind of teammate he was. O’Neal shed some light on his off-court relationships with teammates when he said his prodding of Kobe Bryant throughout his time as a Laker was a means to push Bryant to become better — even though they ultimately split not on the best of terms.
O’Neal called himself a CEO pushing buttons to get the best out of those around him — especially guys like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and, even, Dwight Howard. His methods may have been questionable, but you cannot argue with the results of his career.
Stories like the ones Mark Madsen recently told on his blog about O’Neal are going to begin trickling out to tell us exactly what kind of person and teammate O’Neal was. Madsen told 10 of his favorites stories about O’Neal that showed both his strategic prodding of teammates and his ability to make people feel loose. It goes far from the story of O’Neal shouting at Jerry Buss to give him an extension after making a block in practice.
Madsen related stories like this:
“Before one of my last regular season games as a Laker on the road in Memphis, I was sitting in the locker room trying to get ready for the game mentally. All of a sudden, I look up and before I know it Shaq wants to wrestle.
“Next thing I knew we were in a full out wrestling match. Imagine trying to push around a 335-pound, 7-foot man around who wasn’t even trying very hard to pin you. All I know is that after a minute or two I had given it may all and I was exhausted. Shaq let up, but everyone in the locker room was loose and relaxed after the moment of fun.
“I’m not sure how I had the energy left to play the game, but I ended up playing one my better games and had 10 points which almost never happened. After the game Shaq said, ‘Nice game Mark, now I see that I need to wrestle you every game.’”
Madsen related other stories where O’Neal used jokes to loosen up his teammates. But more interestingly, Madsen related how O’Neal once ripped into him for not being aggressive enough in a game against Portland. But O’Neal came back after pushing Madsen and encouraged him to be more aggressive and shoot more the next game. Madsen said it was O’Neal’s way of telling his teammates to push themselves beyond their limits.
What might be the biggest revelation was how much O’Neal respected those who came before him, even if they might be considered footnotes in history.
“Before our final game in New Jersey for the third World Championship, Shaq got everybody together and said something like, ‘We need to get this win tonight…we’ve got to do it for Mitch [Richmond].’
“Mitch was in the last year of his career and had played a big role leadership-wise and had some nice games for the team. But he had not yet won a championship ring. Shaq just always respected the people who had gone before and all of the work that Mitch had put in and his stature and respect as an NBA veteran from before Shaq came into the league.
“He always talked in private about the respect he had for Wilt, Russell, George Mikan, etc. He gave so much respect to others who deserved it, and he received the same respect back.”
Richmond is hardly an all-time great basketball player. But he was a very very good player. To hear how much it means for O’Neal to win him a championship and complete his career is a new side of O’Neal that we have not always heard.
Plenty of these type of stories will trickle out as O’Neal plunges deeper into retirement.
Photos via DayLife.com.