Shaquille O’Neal has always been a player that takes pride in squashing the greats. Even those on his own team, as we saw in his rivalry with Kobe Bryant during his time with the Lakers. However, in 1995, O’Neal may have taken that tendency too far with his reaction to beating Michael Jordan during the NBA championships. While the habit itself isn’t necessarily bad, the way things played out during that championship season became one of O’Neal’s biggest regrets from his time on the Magic. It taught him an important lesson that he’d carry throughout his career.
Shaquille O’Neal’s regret from his time with the Magic
In 1995, O’Neal had yet to win a championship. A young player without the experience he’d bring to later championships, O’Neal now admits he made some mistakes. In an interview with Willie Geist on Sunday TODAY, O’Neal explained his pitfalls during that season. After beating Jordan, O’Neal admits he let it go to his head. He became too excited and celebrated too early.
“I broke a rule. You celebrated too early. Because we beat Michael Jordan. Which nobody has ever done. Who’s the last guy to beat Michael Jordan in the playoffs? Nobody. So we beat him, I’m partying like a mug, ’cause in my mind, I already had the championship won,” O’Neal said.
In a way, it’s hard to blame him. Taking down Jordan was a big accomplishment, and if that had been it, O’Neal would be right to celebrate. But he still had an important game ahead of him that would determine the fate of the 1995 NBA championships.
Learning an important lesson
The good news is that the experience taught O’Neal an important lesson about championship games, and he would go on to win four over his career. But that year, after beating Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the second round, O’Neal thought he had his ring in the bag.
His early celebrations may have caused Shaquille O’Neal to lose focus during the Magic’s face-off with the Houston Rockets, and they lost. However, the series loss gave him the wisdom he needed to succeed in the championships later in his career.
“I was already celebrating,” O’Neal told Geist, “…But, before you succeed you must first land, so what that taught me was, if I ever get back to the Finals, nobody will ever beat me again.”
The outcome may have been different in 1995 if O’Neal hadn’t lost his focus against the Rockets. But that crushing loss sure seems to have helped O’Neal stay focused for the rest of his career.
Shaquille O’Neal took pride in beating Michael Jordan
Although it was a mistake to celebrate so early after beating Jordan, O’Neal had his reasons at the time. For this Hall-of-Famer, taking down a superstar is more important than being a part of a superteam. During a recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel Live, O’Neal explained his reasoning. Kimmel asked what Los Angeles team O’Neal would play for if he wasn’t retired.
“None of those teams,” he answered. “I’m from an era where guys wanted to compete and beat each other.” He then explained that he’d wait to see how the teams formed, and he’d choose the team that needed a superstar. He doesn’t want to be a part of a superteam. Instead, he’d rather be the superstar who can teach a group of guys how to take down the superteam.
It’s an interesting answer, but not that surprising consider that he’s always taken pride in beating the superstars, such as his reaction to winning against Jordan in 1995. And really, O’Neal’s way sounds more exciting than joining an already successful team.