Shaquille O’Neal‘s departure from the Los Angeles Lakers led him to land with the Miami Heat. The brief stint with the Heat featured O’Neal securing his fourth NBA title. Before he earned the championship, Pat Riley used a secret weapon in free agency to convince the star big man to take a pay cut.
Shaquille O’Neal traded to the Heat
O’Neal spent eight years with the Lakers, where he established himself as one of the game’s greatest talents.
The pairing alongside Kobe Bryant lifted the franchise to sustained success, winning three NBA titles in four Finals appearances. However, the lingering internal friction led the pairing to separate. The Lakers traded O’Neal to the Heat in a blockbuster deal for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and a first-round pick.
The big man’s tenure in Miami was short but fruitful as he secured his fourth and final NBA title. Before reaching that lofty feat, Pat Riley took a unique path to get O’Neal to take a pay cut.
Pat Riley recruited a secret weapon to convince Shaquille O’Neal to take a pay cut with the Heat
After O’Neal finished his first season with the Heat, he had one year left on his contract.
The star big man was coming off a highly productive campaign, where he averaged a double-double with 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds along with 2.3 blocks per contest. His strong year positioned him well with the hopes of cashing in on a massive payday.
However, the Heat had no interest in inking the then-32-year-old to a huge contract that ran through his mid-30s. Those parameters guided head coach Pat Riley to take a methodical approach to get O’Neal to commit to a pay cut.
Riley went to then-free agent Antoine Walker to convince the star big man to take less because he knew one prominent thing about him.
“I remember Pat Riley calling me and said, ‘look, I need you to call Shaq.’ But he ain’t my guy,” Walker recounted on the Knuckleheads podcast. “So he like, ‘call Shaq, you’ve got to tell Shaq that he’s got to take a pay cut.’ So I’m like, ‘why I got to tell him?’ And he’s like, ‘look, tell him you’re coming, tell him you’re going to take a pay cut, you’re coming to play, and he’ll probably do it.’ Because this is how bad Shaq wanted to win another title.”
O’Neal wanted to prove he could win another NBA title away from Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. That alone made Walker’s part in the conversation compelling. Walker was coming off a campaign averaging 19.1 points and 9.0 rebounds.
It proved to be enough as O’Neal inked a five-year, $100 million extension rather than the three-year, $90 million deal he desired. It immediately paid huge dividends helping the Heat win the 2006 NBA title.
Heat stint further cemented his iconic NBA legacy
Although O’Neal left millions on the table, it allowed him to secure his fourth NBA title.
The star big man just wanted to prove he could win a championship without Bryant, and he did just that. O’Neal wasn’t the player he was once was, but it added another status chapter to his legacy. His time with the Heat was brief due to his declined play and injury, but he made the most of the 3 1/2 tenure.
O”Neal left a franchise-changing imprint that earned him his No. 32 jersey retired. His best years may have been with the Lakers, but he accomplished what he set out to do with the Heat.