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In the world of basketball, few men are more intimidating than Michael Jordan. Not only does His Airness boast an untouchable resume and some serious GOAT status, but he possesses something of a mean streak. The living NBA legend is more than comfortable talking trash, taking things personally, and crushing anyone who stands in his way. Just ask Shaquille O’Neal about that reality.

During the Diesel’s rookie year, he crossed paths with MJ during Eastern Conference action. While that experience was terrifying, Shaq also left the court having learned a valuable lesson: even the biggest NBA star is still a human being.

Let’s roll the tape and head back to the 1990s.

Shaquille O’Neal was terrified by Michael Jordan until he tried to block His Airness’ shot

During his time at LSU, Shaquille O’Neal established himself as an unstoppable presence in the paint. In the NCAA ranks, however, there was no Michael Jordan. And, for all of the big man’s size, strength, and confidence, facing off against a global star was still scary.

“So, first time I played him, I was terrified,” O’Neal explained on Revolt’s Drink Champs. While Shaq insisted that Jordan wasn’t his idol or anything like that, it didn’t make things any easier on the hardwood.

“That’s just Jordan,” Shaq continued. “Cause high school, college, I never got dunked on, but I was like, ‘This dude could probably dunk on me right now and embarrass me.’ But, so, when he first came and did a little stutter move, and he shot a shot, I was right there. So, now I was like, ‘Uh-oh. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.'”

Even though he didn’t connect and block the shot, the young center still came away from that encounter with an important lesson. On the court, he was within touching distance of anyone, even Mike.

“I was like, ‘He’s a god, but I’m like close to the god,'” the legendary center concluded. “So, after I almost blocked his shot, all that went away. … Yes, it humanized him.”

While that might sound like a small lesson, it was likely an important lesson in Shaq’s career. If the big man was able to be intimidated by NBA stars, his size, strength, and talent would have been at least partially negated. There’s no point to being big if you play small.

Believe it or not, Michael Jordan also learned a similar lesson from Shaq

Shaquille O'Neal (L) defends Michael Jordan (R) in NBA action.
Shaquille O’Neal (L) defends Michael Jordan (R) in NBA action. | Vincent Laforet/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Jordan Even Trash-Talked LaTroy Hawkins During Their Time in Minor League Baseball

Normally, Michael Jordan was the intimidating presence on the hardwood. After returning from his foray into minor league baseball, though, His Airness needed to reduce the fear factor around Shaq.

During a meeting in the 1995-96 season, Jordan faced off against an O’Neal who was bigger, stronger, and more dominant than he remembered. MJ was even feeling a bit intimidated — could he really cut it if this was what the NBA had become? — but everything changed after one play. The center knocked Mike to the ground and, defying a piece of advice that the Chicago Bulls star had previously dispensed — helped the veteran back to his feet.

“I didn’t really know how to play against him. Do I go right at him? Do I stop and pull up? Blah, blah, blah. So I went right at him, and he just knocked me straight to the floor, and then he reached down to pick me up,” Jordan remembered on the Icons Club podcast. “I said, ‘Naw, he didn’t mean it, he’s a nice guy.’ If he’d’ve left and stepped over me, a la the old school, I would’ve been somewhat intimidated. But his heart is too good. He’s not that type of guy. It took away some of the intimidation factor.”

How much of a difference did that lesson make? Probably not much since the Magic still beat Chicago during the 1995 postseason. MJ and his Bulls then swept Shaq out of the 1996 playoffs, so it’s unlikely that a psychological edge swung the series.

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