During his time on the hardwood, Shaquille O’Neal had no problem throwing his massive frame around and bullying opponents under the basket. On at least one occasion, though, he used his sheer size and strength for another purpose: picking a fight with a teammate.
As a member of the Orlando Magic, O’Neal got into it with veteran guard Scott Skiles during a practice. While things ended up getting heated — Shaq put the smaller man in a headlock, kicking off a melee — there weren’t any long-lasting hard feelings. If anything, the two former teammates have spoken highly of each other since their fisticuffs.
Shaquille O’Neal and Scott Skiles threw down during an Orlando Magic practice in 1994
When you think of Shaquille O’Neal, you probably picture him wearing the iconic gold and purple of the Los Angeles Lakers. The big man got his professional start in Orlando, though, and made a name for himself with the Magic.
Even though he was still a young man at the time, Shaq wasn’t prepared to back down from any challenge. While that helped him on the court, it also led to a messy situation during a team practice.
“Shaq got into a scrap with one of my teammates,” Scott Skiles, one of the veterans on that Magic team, told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune in 2004. “And I got tired of everybody separating them. I went over and said, ‘Why don’t you guys stop [faking it] and just fight?’ Then he took a swing at me. … There were many punches landed. It turned into a whole team melee. When I charged [O’Neal], he had me by the neck in a headlock. My neck was sore for like six weeks. I don’t think I’d go that route again.”
The teammate Shaq was initially battling with trend out to be Larry Krystkowiak, who shared his side of the story in a 2007 ESPN piece. The big man confirmed that he and O’Neal were banging bodies during a tough scrimmage, and Skiles said they should get down to brass tacks and fight. When they did, the guard realized he may have landed his teammates in a sticky situation and tried to intervene.
“So Shaq and I just charged at each other and threw a bunch of haymakers, and Skiles ended up wrapped around his shoulders hanging on for dear life, and Shaq was like a wild bull trying to shake him off,” Krystkowiak explained.
Shaquille O’Neal and Scott Skiles didn’t have any hard feelings after that incident
Given the social dynamics of an NBA locker room — no one wants to be embarrassed in front of their teammates — it would be understandable if Skiles and O’Neal didn’t see eye-to-eye after their altercation. While there might have been some bad blood at the time, the two men have since spoken highly of each other.
In a 2015 Orlando Sentinel story, O’Neal said that he always appreciated the guard’s fire and even called him the best point guard he ever played alongside.
“I knew he wasn’t going to back down — that’s what I always loved about Scott Skiles. I always loved playing with him,” O’Neal explained. “I played with a lot of great point guards, but he probably has to be the best because when I first came in, and I put my hand up anywhere on the court, the ball was there.”
From his side of things, Skiles said that Shaq made his life easier on the court.
“I love Shaq,” Skiles explained in the aforementioned Chicago Tribune story. “Shaq’s one of my all-time favorite teammates. When he came to the Magic, it became a lot easier for me to play. Instead of running 50 pick-and-rolls on a 25-win team, all of a sudden, we could throw it inside, and I could go to the weak side and spot up and make a shot.”
Shaq and Scott Skiles weren’t the only teammates to come away from an altercation with a positive perspective
In isolation, the Skiles-O’Neal fight might seem like a bizarre one-off incident. How often could a big man really grapple with his guard on the practice court? Believe it or not, we do know that at least one comparable situation unfolded in Seattle.
During his rookie year with the SuperSonics, Gary Payton was tasked with doing “everything” for Xavier McDaniel. One day during practice, though, the guard decided that he had enough and told the X-Man that he wasn’t taking orders anymore. Needless to say, the veteran didn’t appreciate that.
“This is what Xav did,” Payton explained in The Players’ Tribune. “He grabbed me by my neck — middle of practice. And put me in one of those sleepers, right with everyone watching and everything. I was about to go out, and then he let me go. He told me, ‘If I have to beat your ass every time, you’re gonna listen to me.’”
Like Skiles and Shaq, Payton didn’t hold a grudge against McDaniel. The Glove called the incident a “wake up call” and wrote that his career wouldn’t have been the same if he didn’t play alongside veterans who looked out for him.
On the whole, putting a coworker in a headlock or sleeper hold is a quick way to land yourself in hot water. In the NBA, though, there’s a bit more leeway for unconventional peer mediation techniques.