Shaquille O’Neal led the NBA in shooting percentage 10 times in 19 seasons, which was evidence that he could not be moved off the low post by anything less than a bulldozer. That same resistance to outside forces explains how the Hall of Fame inductee made it through his first pro season without being subjected to rookie hazing.
Shaquille O’Neal could dish it out
Shaquille O’Neal’s career in the NBA was remarkable for its duration and productivity. At 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds, he averaged more than 34 minutes a game for his career, although he did appear in more than 67 games just twice in his final 12 seasons.
O’Neal finished with 28,596 points and 13,099 rebounds for averages of 23.7 and 10.9, respectively. About all that could be said against the 15-time NBA All-Star is that he was barely a 50% shooter at the free-throw line. Still, the durability and production from the mountain of a man more than offset that.
Shaq banked more than $292 million in NBA salary alone, supplemented by endorsement money and ventures in music and movies. And he had a blast along the way, consistently demonstrating the sense of humor and playfulness he displays these days alongside Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith while working as an analyst on TNT. He has shown he can take a punch from his broadcast teammates and dish one out like it was just another day of his NBA career that ended with 4,146 personal fouls.
Shaquille O’Neal could be tough on the new guys
A normal NBA regular season consists of 82 games. Throw in training camp, preseason games, and a long playoff run and it’s possible that these small groups of well-paid athletes are working and traveling together for more than nine months out of the year.
The travel can be a grind, even with private jets and first-class accommodations, but it’s that time on the road that can really shape a team. In between practices and games, there’s a lot of downtime that the guys spend together playing cards, watching TV, and otherwise killing time.
And there’s always a rookie or two for the likes of Shaquille O’Neal to pick on. As is the case in the other pro sports, veteran players are only too happy to show those first-year players who’s boss. There have been instances where the hazing has gotten out of hand, but it is typically good, clean fun.
Twelfth-year guard Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat came into the league in 2008 as a Phoenix Suns second-round pick and has proven himself to be one of the genuine steals of that draft. Back then, though, he was just a rookie and found himself subjected to the whims of Shaq, who was 36 years old and in the twilight of his career.
The Hall of Fame center recently joined NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast, where he talked about what he put Dragic through that season. O’Neal admitted turning Dragic into his personal bellhop by always making him carry his luggage and a cumbersome keyboard to Shaq’s hotel room while on the road.
The big man could not be hazed
Goran Dragic, then a Phoenix Suns rookie and now in his second decade as a steady NBA player, was perplexed by the end of that first season because he frequently stayed in a room next to Shaquille O’Neal’s room but never heard music from the keyboard he had been lugging around.
“I asked him at the end of the season, ‘Hey Shaq, did you ever play on the keyboard?’ Dragic recalled on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast. “He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘It doesn’t work. It’s broke.’ So, I had to carry this keyboard the whole season. And that was my rookie duties.”
O’Neal verified the story last week.
“If you can take crap from ‘The Shaq Man,’ then you can take crap from anybody. And look at what I have created, and how he’s playing.’
Interestingly, O’Neal never caved to hazing pressure in his own rookie year with the 1992-93 Orlando Magic because he was able to put 6-foot-1 guard Scott Skiles in his place immediately.
“First day I got there, Scottie Skiles was like, ‘Get my bag, rook,’” O’Neal said on TNT. “I was like, ‘I don’t do that, I’m the franchise player.’ And I never got hazed.”
Broadcast partners Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith chimed in to say that rookie hazing can help develop relationships between teammates.
“That’s why no one likes you,” Barkley kidded O’Neal.
“I ain’t doing none of that,” O’Neal shot back.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference