While traditional, back-to-the-basket big men have largely become a thing of the past, we saw some epic battles in the paint during the 1990s. When Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing met, for example, it was a heavyweight clash under the basket. Those encounters weren’t just exciting for fans to watch; they also made quite an impression on at least one party.
In his 2011 book, Shaq Uncut, O’Neal recalls his first encounter with Ewing and how the Knicks center “punked” him. The Deisel never forgot that experience, and, in a related scenario, how he was snubbed during the All-Star Game.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane and venture under the boards.
An angry Patrick Ewing had no time for a young Shaquille O’Neal
In 1992, Shaquille O’Neal sent shockwaves through the NBA by bursting onto the professional scene. He even earned a starting spot in the 1993 All-Star Game, making him the first rookie to accomplish the feat since Michael Jordan. Patrick Ewing, however, wasn’t impressed.
“I was a rookie with the Orlando Magic the first time I ever met Patrick,” O’Neal recalled in his 2011 book. “We were playing at Madison Square Garden, and my plan was to shake his hand and say, ‘Hello, Mr. Ewing,” but before I got the chance he punked me. I went to shake his hand, and he wouldn’t. So I went to put my fist out and he hit me real hard on the knuckles. Then he said, ‘I’m gonna bust your ass, rookie.'”
That wasn’t the only disrespect that Shaq suffered, though. Pat Riley, who was Ewing’s coach at the time, also managed to needle the young center.
“Ewing was mad because everyone was talking like I was the Next Big Thing (which I was),” the Diesel recalled. “I led the All-Star Game in votes in my first year in the NBA, and after that Ewing told some guys no rookies should be allowed to start in the game. Pat Riley was the coach of the East that year, but he was Patrick’s coach with the Knicks, and he told everyone that it was ‘ridiculous’ that I was the starter. So when it got to the All-Star Game Riley started me because he had to, but he played me and Patrick the same amount of minutes.”
As you might expect, O’Neal didn’t appreciate that one-two punch.
“I didn’t like that,” Shaq continued. “I never really forgot it. I was voted in as the starter. Not Ewing. The fans wanted to see me. So give the fans what they want, right?”
Shaq certainly seemed to learn a lesson from both of those experiences
When push comes to shove, both Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing posted similar starts during the 1992-93 season. While that might minimize Ewing and Riley’s actions — it’s not like Shaq was far and away the better player — it doesn’t change the lessons the young center likely learned.
Elsewhere in his book, O’Neal explained that he had watched clips of the Knicks’ star as a teenager and “decided to kidnap Patrick Ewing’s mean streak.” After experiencing those sentiments firsthand, the Diesel probably learned a clear lesson.
Throughout his NBA career, the LSU product was never shy to throw his weight around, both physically and metaphorically. He could bully opponents under the basket and wasn’t shy about trash-talking. Even if he didn’t directly get those practices from Ewing, it probably didn’t hurt to see how the big Jamaican greeted a competitor.
Then, moving onto Riley, we have the idea of putting on a show and giving the fans what they want to see. While it’s impossible to know the motivation for every one of Shaq’s choices, that could be (one of) the origin points for the fun-loving big man we all came to know. O’Neal certainly took basketball seriously, but he also cracked jokes, appeared in movies, and had no problem being both a personality and a basketball player.
So, no matter how you slice it, Shaquille O’Neal got the last laugh. Not only did he start in that All-Star Game, but he went on to appear in many more, won championships, and largely laughed his way to the bank. Punk him at your own risk.