Michael Jordan intimidated his opponents during his legendary playing career with his scoring prowess and trash-talking. However, the Chicago Bulls legend admitted in 1997 that he was intimidated the first time he faced Shaquille O’Neal.
O’Neal matched up against Jordan for the first time on January 12, 1993, during his rookie season in the NBA. Even though the Bulls defeated the Orlando Magic, Jordan was in awe of O’Neal.
Michael Jordan on Shaquille O’Neal: I just couldn’t fathom how big he was
Jordan told SLAM Magazine in 1997 that he couldn’t believe how big O’Neal was when he first saw the center in person. The 1992 No. 1 overall draft pick was over seven feet tall and weighed more than 300 pounds.
“[When was the last time] that I was intimidated in basketball? When I first saw Shaquille,” Jordan said. “How big he is. I mean, that was a short intimidation factor, but [laughs] I just couldn’t fathom how big he was.”
Behind 23 points from Jordan, the Bulls beat the Magic on January 12, 1993, by a final score of 122-106. O’Neal finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 8-of-10 from the field. He went on to win the 1992-93 Rookie of the Year Award after finishing the campaign with stellar averages of 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds.
Jordan led the Bulls to the title in 1992-93. Chicago defeated the Phoenix Suns for its third straight championship and MJ’s third Finals MVP. His Airness then shocked the sports world by retiring following the tragic murder of his father.
Near the end of the 1994-95 season, Jordan returned to the Bulls. His first game at the United Center was against O’Neal on March 24, 1995. Not only did the Magic spoil Jordan’s United Center debut, but they also got the best of him and Chicago in the 1995 playoffs.
Michael Jordan and Bulls lost to Shaquille O’Neal and Magic in ’95 playoffs
The Bulls faced the Magic in the second round of the 1995 playoffs. In six games, O’Neal and Co. eliminated Chicago, handing Jordan his only postseason series loss from 1991 to 1998.
Shaq was unstoppable against the Bulls. He averaged 24.3 points and 13.2 rebounds and blocked 2.0 shots per game. Jordan was terrific for Chicago, putting up 31.0 points per contest. However, he ran out of gas in Game 6, shooting only 8-of-19 from the floor.
Jordan was devastated seeing his old teammate, Horace Grant, beat him in the playoffs. He used that setback as motivation and came back with a vengeance in 1995-96.
Bulls won 72 games, swept Magic in playoffs, won fourth title
Behind Jordan, the Bulls went 72-10 in 1995-96. Black Jesus won his eighth scoring title and fourth regular-season MVP and got his revenge against O’Neal and the Magic in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals by sweeping them.
The Bulls capped off their historic season by beating the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1996 Finals. Jordan took home his fourth Finals MVP and completed his comeback campaign. He won two more championships in 1997 and 1998 to finish his career with six rings and six Finals MVPs.
O’Neal only played four seasons with the Magic. In the summer of 1996, he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. In LA, the Diesel won one regular-season MVP, one scoring title, three championships, and three Finals MVPs.
Both Jordan and O’Neal are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The former is widely recognized as the greatest player of all time, while the latter is viewed as the most dominant player ever due to his size and strength.
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