One year after Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic bounced Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls from the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, the two teams squared off again in the ’96 Eastern Conference Finals. Only this time, the Bulls had a new weapon to combat Shaq in Dennis Rodman, who’d helped Chicago to a 72-10 regular-season record, at the time the best mark in NBA history.
Rodman and O’Neal battled throughout the series, which wasn’t that competitive overall, not just on the court but in the press as well as the two engaged in a war of words in which Shaq threatened to put “The Worm” on a stretcher while Rodman took jabs at O’Neal’s abilities, also correctly predicting the series would be Shaq’s last games in an Orlando uniform.
The Bulls manhandled the Magic in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals
It’s a good thing the banter between Shaq and Rodman during the ’96 Eastern Conference Finals because the series itself certainly wasn’t. O’Neal averaged 27 points and 10.8 rebounds per game but essentially disappeared when the Magic needed him most, especially during the stretches in which Rodman was guarding him.
The Bulls won by an average of nearly 17 points during the four-game sweep and Rodman, as usual, played stellar defense and dominated the boards, leading all players with 15.8 rebounds per game. But he also chipped in on offense, scoring 11.5 points, more than double his regular-season average of 5.5.
Shaquille O’Neal called Dennis Rodman a ‘gimmick’ and threatened to put him on a stretcher
Early on in the series, Shaq called Rodman, who famously dyed his hair and had numerous piercings, nothing more than a “gimmick” who could never be on his level, on or off the basketball court.
But it was quite clear that Rodman got to Shaq as the series progressed. During Game 3, a game in which he scored a series-low 17 points and shot just 42.1% from the floor in the Magic’s 19-point loss, O’Neal pulled Rodman to the ground as the two were battling for a rebound, earning Shaq a technical foul.
The incident was one of many between the two during the series and ahead of Game 4, Rodman made a statement saying he was clearly under Shaq’s skin. O’Neal disagreed, saying he would have been “throwing some punches” had Rodman actually gotten to him. But he also said he was ready to put “The Worm” on a stretcher if necessary.
Things obviously never got to that point in Game 4 as the Bulls completed the sweep and went on to beat the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Finals to complete arguably the greatest season in league history.
Rodman predicted Shaq would leave Orlando for the LA Lakers
During the back-and-forth between the two during the series, not only did Rodman discuss his little vendetta with O’Neal but also actually predicted Shaq’s future.
O’Neal was set to become a free agent at the end of the 1995-1996 season and said on numerous occasions that he had every intention of staying in Orlando. During the Bulls-Magic series, however, Rodman thought otherwise.
“Shaquille won’t be here next year. He’ll be in LA for sure. There are a lot more opportunities out there. You’ve got movies, records, endorsements.”Dennis Rodman on Shaquille O’Neal
As we all know, Shaq did indeed go to LA as he signed a seven-year deal with the Lakers. But the change of scenery certainly didn’t change the rivalry between O’Neal and Rodman as the two nearly got into it again during their first meeting the following season.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference