Perhaps one number and one number alone best reflects Shaq’s championship pedigree: 33, as in 33 consecutive seasons, stretching back to 1984, in which a teammate of Shaq’s was on the roster of the eventual NBA champion. In 1984, that teammate was Greg Kite, who served as the backup center for the Orlando Magic when Shaq first entered the league in 1992. In 2016, that teammate was LeBron James, who played alongside Shaq in Cleveland for a single season in 2009-10 before departing for Miami.
One of the most dominant big men the NBA has ever seen, Shaq was a member of four title-winning teams: three with the Lakers and one with the Miami Heat. Each of those championship teams featured at least one other future Hall of Famer in addition to Shaq, but on more than one occasion, it was a less-heralded player like Robert Horry who came up big with a series on the line, or, to use Shaq’s own, more colorful words:
"Big Shot Bob saved my a-- in two championships out of three with his shooting. I think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He doesn't have big numbers but he hit a lot of important shots, shots that if he doesn't make, a lot of guys can't claim, 'I have a ring.' Including me."
Of course, Shaq was also a polarizing figure throughout his time in the NBA, feuding with teammates and coaches alike, including, perhaps most famously, Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, and Pat Riley, among countless others. Practice-session fights, both verbal and physical, were commonplace with any Shaq-led team, yet many teammates -- Scott Skiles, for example -- were willing to overlook the occasional in-practice headlock in exchange for playing alongside a dominating center who made the game easier for everyone.
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15 Loved: Scott Skiles
Scott Skiles famously challenged his far larger teammate during an Orlando Magic practice session, which, in an entirely unsurprising turn of events, didn’t work out particularly well for Skiles, who recalled the clash during a 2004 interview with The Chicago Tribune, saying:
"Actually, Shaq got into a scrap with one of my teammates. And I got tired of everybody separating them. I went over and said, `Why don't you guys stop [faking it] and just fight?' Then he took a swing at me. There were many punches landed. It turned into a whole team melee. When I charged [O'Neal], he had me by the neck in a headlock. My neck was sore for like six weeks. I don't think I'd go that route again."
Although Skiles was on the receiving end of Shaq’s wrath during that particular practice session, the former Magic guard was quite fond of playing alongside the big fella during their time together in Orlando:
"I love Shaq. Shaq's one of my all-time favorite teammates. When he came to the Magic, it became a lot easier for me to play. Instead of running 50 pick-and-rolls on a 25-win team, all of a sudden we could throw it inside and I could go to the weak side and spot up and make a shot. Shaq had an exuberance and enthusiasm that was really refreshing."
14 Hated: Chris Quinn
When Shaq left Miami, he made a point of disparaging two of his former Heat teammates while heaping praise on the club he had just joined in Phoenix, saying, "I love playing for this coach and I love playing with these guys. We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I'm actually on a team again."
Quinn, who joined the Heat as an undrafted free agent, had played alongside Shaq in Miami for just a little more than one season, with the only full season coming during Quinn’s rookie campaign. Despite Quinn's status as an NBA newcomer, he handled the comments like a veteran, deflecting the criticism entirely while declining to make any negative or retaliatory comments of his own.
Even so, it must have been frustrating for the second-year player to be subjected to such unwarranted criticism, particularly since Shaq’s claims don’t seem to survive scrutiny: Just a few months before being traded to the Suns, for example, Shaq had openly complained to the media about his shot attempts. In each of the games cited by Shaq, the Hall of Fame center was never even on the floor at the same time as Quinn.
13 Antoine Walker
Prior to joining a Miami Heat roster that already featured Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, Walker had just one deep playoff run under his belt: Along with Paul Pierce, Walker helped lead an overachieving 2001-02 Boston Celtics squad to an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. When he teamed up with Shaq and Wade on a championship caliber roster, however, Walker was clearly at the tail-end of his career and could no longer be expected to carry an offense atop his perpetually shimmying shoulders.
It is because of teammates like Shaq and Wade that Employee Number 8 has an NBA Championship to his name, so it's hardly a surprise that Walker has not been shy about offering praise for his former Miami Heat teammates. In a 2016 interview with CBS Radio, for example, Walker defended the Heat’s decision to retire O’Neal’s number and discussed Shaq’s overlooked impact on the 2006 NBA Champions, saying:
“Shaq completely changed the culture down in Miami. People don’t understand how good of a teammate he was and how he embraced guys on the team.”
12 Hated: Ricky Davis
In keeping with a career-long pattern in which he seemed to delight in the indiscriminate burning of bridges on his way out of town, Shaq, who had just been traded to the Phoenix Suns, sniped at several of his former Miami Heat teammates as well as the team’s architect, Pat Riley -- the same Pat Riley that Shaq had repeatedly called “the great Pat Riley,” upon his arrival just three-and-a-half seasons earlier.
Ricky Davis was one of Shaq’s primary targets for derision, with the big man questioning Davis’s professionalism and basketball IQ before expressing relief that, after joining the Suns, he was “actually on a team again.”
Reflecting on his time with the Heat, Shaq also complained about his shot opportunities, citing both the overall volume of shot attempts as well as the quality of those opportunities. Playing alongside Davis, Shaq explained, defenders could confidently sag from the wing and easily double the post or deny an attempted entry pass into the paint.
Davis took Shaq’s criticisms in stride, but he still used the opportunity to highlight what his former teammate’s comments revealed, saying: "You can't really take stuff personal in the NBA -- you'd go crazy. Shaq's a big guy, whatever. If that's how he feels, that's how he feels. It shows his true colors."
11 Loved: Luke Walton
As a rookie on a veteran Lakers team led by a quartet of all-time NBA greats in Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton, Walton’s laid-back demeanor and unselfish style of play mostly spared him from the kind of hazing so many first-year players had to endure – particularly those playing alongside O’Neal. In fact, Shaq revealed that Walton was likely the only rookie who was not subjected to the big man’s hijinks, because, as Shaq noted, “I hazed everybody.”
Walton’s first season in the NBA was also Shaq’s final season in Los Angeles, but Shaq offered serious praise for his former Laker teammate, saying:
"Luke was definitely a great, unselfish player. We always talked about the game. We always talked about his crazy father [Bill Walton] and all that stuff. One thing I always liked about Luke was that he always looked for me in the game. He would penetrate and he [had] the ability to score and was a pretty good player, but he would always give me little, easy drop-off passes, and I tried to return the favor for him."
O’Neal’s attempts to reciprocate for his rookie teammate’s unselfish play apparently extended beyond the court as well: When Walton arrived at training camp driving a beat-up 1970 Cadillac convertible, Shaq had Walton's car sent off to a body shop in Los Angeles for a serious overhaul that included a new, candy-apple red paint job.
10 Hated: Olden Polynice
Although Olden Polynice and Shaquille O’Neal were never technically teammates, Polynice, while trying out for the Lakers in 2001, found himself in the middle of the infamous Shaq-Kobe feud. According to Polynice, Shaq and Kobe had been engaged in an argument over which player could rightly claim the Lakers as "my team." The silly verbal exchange eventually turned physical, with Polynice explaining the situation to CBS Sports Radio in 2016:
“They got into a fight. I was the one who broke it up. I had to grab Shaquille. This dude is too big for me to be holding on to. I tried to tell Kobe at the time ‘yo man, back up’ and he kept coming at him. I’m saying to myself, ‘either he has a death wish or he doesn’t give a damn.’”
In trying to keep the peace between Kobe and Shaq, Polynice wound up on the receiving end of punches thrown by the pair of feuding superstars: “There were punches thrown. All the punches missed. I think I caught more punches than they did. I stepped in there and Shaq grazed me and I wrapped him up and I’m holding on for dear life.”
Despite serving as a peacemaker between the two future Hall of Famers and taking punches from a 7-foot-1 behemoth at the peak of his physical powers, Polynice was not rewarded with a spot on the Laker roster. Since Polynice’s brief experience playing with Shaq involved absorbing punches intended for the Hall of Famer’s nemesis, it’s fairly safe to conclude that he didn’t exactly enjoy his brief preseason stint as Shaq’s teammate.
9 Loved: Amar’e Stoudemire
Shaq’s stay in Phoenix was relatively brief -- just 103 games over parts of two seasons -- and the “Big Cactus” couldn’t help push a Suns team led by Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire out of the first round of the playoffs in the Western Conference. Despite the lack of postseason success, Stoudemire was in peak form, earning All-NBA honors and averaging 25.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game during his first season playing in the frontcourt alongside Shaq.
Even though he played just one full season with Stoudemire and the Suns, Shaq still earned a place on the list of S.T.A.T.’s all-time favorite teammates from a 13-year NBA career that also included multiple appearances with Team USA (the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship).
When Stoudemire announced his retirement from the NBA -- as well as his decision to continue to play professional basketball in Israel -- he named six of the NBA's all-time greats as his favorite teammates: Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and, of course, Shaq.
8 Hated: Glen Rice
Shortly before the Lakers parted with Elden Campbell and Eddie Jones to acquire Glen Rice from the Hornets, Shaq had urged the team to acquire an outside shooter capable of complementing his dominant presence in the post. O’Neal specifically mentioned Rice as an ideal target, but Rice didn’t really want anything to do with the Lakers after several standout seasons in which he was Charlotte's primary scoring option, which played a role in allowing Rice to earn three consecutive All-Star appearances.
According to a Sports Illustrated report following his disastrous two-year run with the Lakers, Rice had expressed concern about the proposed trade that would send him to Los Angeles. Rice was worried that, with his contract set to soon expire, joining the Lakers as a third option behind O’Neal and Kobe Bryant would reduce his value on the free-agent market.
Of course, Rice’s reduced role with the Lakers frustrated him to no end and ultimately devolved into a very public feud with Phil Jackson during the 2000 NBA Finals. Rice, who had complained about his lack of fourth-quarter playing time in the third game of a championship series the Lakers would go on to win, departed for New York in the offseason that followed and, in a midseason interview with The New York Times, he reflected on his brief career playing alongside Shaq and Kobe:
“When I left Charlotte, I was one of the league's top 10 players, but in L.A. they just put me on hold. I understood that with Kobe and Shaq I was going to have to sacrifice a little of my game, but not pretty much all of it. Phil just had me hanging around the 3-point line. That was not my game. But a lot of times I did it for the sake of the team. I gave up a lot for that team, and they never addressed that. That's what made me mad. I felt like I was the scapegoat. If something went wrong, it was always Glen's fault.''
7 Loved: Jason Williams
Just like fellow Heat teammate Antoine Walker, Jason Williams would not have a title on his lengthy NBA resume if not for playing alongside Shaq -- not to mention an absolutely electric Dwyane Wade -- as a member of the 2006 Miami Heat.
Although Williams reached the playoffs eight times during his 12-year NBA career, his teams rarely advanced out of the first round and were never considered legitimate championship contenders. The exception, of course, is the Heat squad for which Williams served as starting point guard for every game of their title run.
It was at least partly due to Shaq’s urging that the Heat brought in Williams as part of a five-team trade during the 2005 offseason, and it was Shaq who defended Williams (who had shown up, according to Shaq, “about 10 seconds late”) during the infamous practice-session clash between Riley and O’Neal that ultimately closed the book on the Shaq era in Miami.
6 Hated: Glen “Big Baby” Davis
Shaq spent his injury-riddled final NBA season as a member of the Boston Celtics, and, when healthy, was productive enough that Danny Ainge felt comfortable trading away Kendrick Perkins, the team’s longtime center, to acquire a much-needed wing scorer for the second unit in Jeff Green. The trade didn’t work out for a number of reasons, including Shaq’s inability to come back from injury as well as Green’s inconsistent offensive game.
While Shaq’s coda with the Celtics was hardly memorable, there is at least one Boston-era story involving O'Neal and Glen “Big Baby” Davis worth re-telling. According to one passage in the autobiographical Shaq Uncut, O’Neal described how he and Davis nearly came to blows when Davis refused to pass the ball into the post:
“Big Baby Davis kept looking me off and taking it himself. Doc is shouting at him to go inside, but he won’t. So Doc calls timeout and draws up a play for me. I go out there, and I back Andrew Bynum way under the rim. I’m loose, I’m ready. I’ve got Bynum under the basket and again, Baby won’t give me the ball. So I go up to him and say, ‘If you ever miss me again I’m going to punch you in the face.’ I was hot.”
Despite being threatened by the 7-foot-1, 325-pound big man, Davis continued to look Shaq off during the next game in Sacramento. During a timeout, Shaq blew up at Davis, barking at him to “Pass the [expletive] ball inside.” Players and coaches refused to intervene, with Shaq explaining how the whole scene unfolded:
“All hell is breaking loose. We’re going back and forth. Doc is standing there and he’s not saying a word. The message is pretty clear: Work this out yourselves. I tell Baby, ‘You’re a selfish player. Everyone on this team knows it.’ Hey, all the fans knew it. He takes shots when he shouldn’t.”
5 Loved: Alonzo Mourning
Taken as the second overall pick behind Shaquille O’Neal in the 1992 NBA Draft, Mourning entered the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets as Shaq’s rival before closing out his Hall of Fame career with the Miami Heat as Shaq’s teammate. In 2005, Mourning rejoined a Miami Heat roster in need of a center capable of backing of Shaq, and the partnership of former rivals yielded Mourning’s only NBA championship in 2006.
Mourning, who served as one of four presenters for Shaq’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, quickly discovered that O’Neal’s dominant career was the product of much more than just his overwhelming physical prowess:
"I learned how caring he was, how much he cared about winning. It was about winning. It wasn't about anything else. It was about surrounding himself with all the right people, to help him win."
4 Hated: Nick Anderson
Over the course of a Hall of Fame career spent with six different teams, a clear pattern emerged in which a departing O’Neal would heap praise on his new team while simultaneously offering the harshest of criticism for his former organization. The first example of this repeating scenario occurred when Shaq left the Orlando Magic in free agency during the 1996 offseason, joining a Lakers franchise he would ultimately go on to sharply criticize in the aftermath of the 2003-04 season.
It was during his first training camp with the Lakers that Shaq, in an interview with The Chicago Tribune, complained about Orlando’s habit of babying "role players," including former teammate Nick Anderson:
"'Everyone knows all the great teams had a great 1-2 punch. Our 1-2 punch was supposed to be me and Penny (Hardaway). [Coach Brian Hill] was worried about getting the other guys plays. Those guys got to be role players. Instead, they're worried about' -- and here Shaq's voice gets purposefully whiny -- 'You're getting too many calls; you're getting all the media attention.'"
Referring specifically to the way Brian Hill, then the head coach of the Orlando Magic, would try to protect players like Nick Anderson, Shaq, in the same interview with the Chicago Tribune, recalled the following:
"I used to go in the locker room and get on these guys and he (Hill) would say, `Don't do that. You're gonna hurt his feelings.'"
Anderson, who played alongside Shaq throughout the entirety of the big man’s four-year tenure in Orlando and was instrumental during the club's run to the NBA Finals in 1995, immediately challenged his former teammate’s manhood after learning of O’Neal’s comments:
"He's not a man. He never had anything to say to anyone except Dennis (Scott). The guy never wanted to practice. He would get mad at practice and say, `I'll see you with my next team next year.' Not only did the Magic cater to Shaq, the league catered to Shaq. They made him a monster. But Superman is a fiction, not a fact."
3 Loved: Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway
Led by the lethal combination of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, the Orlando Magic appeared poised for a long stretch of NBA dominance right up until the infamous 1996 offseason in which contract negotiations between the Magic and O’Neal took an ugly turn, giving the Lakers the opportunity to bring Shaq to Los Angeles.
Despite their relative youth, the on-court chemistry between Penny and Shaq helped lead the Magic to the NBA Finals in 1995 and Hardaway clearly understood just how critical Shaq was to the team’s success, which would in turn produce the individual awards and recognition:
“I knew where my bread was buttered. I knew to get him the ball. I could get my points and make him happy. The accolades came from playing with him. It was easier — he was getting double-teamed and it was easier to get my game off. My first-team All-NBAs definitely came from having a guy like Shaq on the team.”
Playing alongside Shaq, Hardaway, just 23 years old at the time, became one of the youngest players in the history of the league to earn a place on an All-NBA First Team. Hardaway repeated the feat in 1996, earning his second and final selection to the All-NBA First Team, which just so happened to be Shaq’s last season with the Magic.
2 Hated: Kobe Bryant
As one of the most thoroughly documented feuds in sports history, there is little reason to recount the acrimony that ultimately undermined the Shaq-and-Kobe era in Los Angeles. As teammates, Kobe and Shaq were able to bring three championships to Los Angeles, but Kobe grew tired of playing alongside the dominant big man and went on to sharply criticize Shaq’s work ethic while also questioning his desire and ability to lead on multiple occasions.
During their time as teammates and even in the years that followed, there were plenty of other incidents occurring both on the court and off -- including a memorable freestyle performance in which Shaq made an especially vulgar request in which he attempted to solicit his former teammate's objective culinary opinion by way of a repeated lyric, specifically, “Kobe, tell me how my a-- tastes” -- so it ultimately came as no surprise that neither Kobe nor Shaq were interested in remaining teammates despite the championship success and individual accolades they achieved together.
1 Loved: Dwyane Wade
After a solid rookie season, Wade had a breakout year during a sophomore campaign that coincided with Shaq’s first season in Miami. Playing alongside one of the NBA’s most dominant big men, Wade earned the first of his eight career All-NBA selections as well as the first of his three career NBA All-Defensive honors, not to mention the first of 12 consecutive NBA All-Star Game appearances. It was Wade’s third NBA season, however, that laid the foundation for a career that easily ranks among as one of the greatest in NBA history.
Following a remarkable regular season in which he averaged 27.2 points, 6.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game, Wade ratcheted up his performance even more for the playoffs, earning NBA Finals MVP on the heels of a historic closeout to the series that saw Wade take over just about every facet of the game. Over the last four games of the series -- all won by the Heat -- Wade averaged 39.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1 block per game, giving Miami its first NBA Championship.
On the night before the Heat retired Shaq’s number, Wade -- whose nickname, “Flash,” was bestowed on him by O’Neal -- made it quite clear just how instrumental The Big Aristotle was in making Wade a superstar, writing via Instagram:
“10 plus years ago we talked about taking a picture like this after we won a championship and we did just that. Thanks to @shaq for helping all of our dreams come true. Great teammate, Great leader and even better friend to me in our time wearing that Heat uniform. I'm man enough to say that I owe a lot of my early success to this man! Congrats on number 32 going up in the rafters big fella. It's definitely deserved x 10!”
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