Shaquille O’Neal is one of the biggest personalities that the NBA has ever seen. Throughout his long and legendary basketball career, he has played for several different teams. Because of this, few people know how it all started for him in the league.
Who Was Shaq Drafted To? After playing college basketball for the LSU Tigers, the Orlando Magic decided to draft Shaq with the number one overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. Orlando had only formed as an NBA expansion team 3 seasons before and so this was the place where it all started for Shaq, and for the Magic Shaq is the place it all started for them. He quickly made a ridiculously large impact on the organization from that point forward.
Why did the Magic want him so badly? Why did they decide to trade Shaq after taking him with the number one overall pick? How did he perform in college to get himself so high up draft boards? Read on to better understand the BIg Aristotle’s early career.
Why Did the Magic End Up Letting Him Go?
When a player is drafted first overall and completely turns around your franchise, most of the time the team wants to sign you to a massive contract. However, the Magic just didn’t do that with Shaq. The team reportedly never treated him like the growing superstar that he was becoming. Instead, they acted as though he was a mediocre player, focusing on what Shaq couldn’t do, like his struggles with his free throw shooting. Shaq already had visions of leaving at this point but wanted to stay if the contract was right. Unfortunately, come his contract extension in the summer of 1996, Orlando lowballed The Big Diesel on their initial offer so that they could use their money to hold onto star point guard Penny Hardaway. Maybe a low offer wouldn’t have been that big of a deal had both Alonzo Mourning and Juwan Howard not just signed massive seven-year, 105 million dollar deals with their respective teams. This set the bar for other big men like Shaq moving forward. Shaq saw himself as the biggest and best in the league and the $54 over 4 years the Magic offered him just wasn’t going to cut it.
For some perspective, in Orlando’s first 3 years in the league they won 70 out of 246 game, just 28%. In the 4 years they had Shaq, they finished above .500 each season, made the NBA Finals in 1995 and lost to a resurgent Michael Jordan and his Bulls in the East Finals in 1996. A long way from being the new kids on the block.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the team that was the most interested and weren’t afraid to go over the salary cap to nab this star to pair with Kobe Bryant. Orlando still had an opportunity at this time to hold onto their high draft pick, but they opted to do something that completely severed them from that possibility. The Orlando Sentinel wrote a piece asking whether or not Shaq was worth $115 million. Roughly 90 percent of the voters who saw this question said no, that he wasn’t worth that much money. I can only imagine that if they knew how good he would be on the Lakers, they would refute that statement. Although, it was still incredibly shocking to see how poorly Orlando treated the star player that they drafted number one overall. Maybe if they operated with a little more respect for Shaq early on in the offseason, he wouldn’t have ever left the team.
Eventually the Magic would see sense and offer Shaq $115million over 7 years. Unfortunately for Orlando, Shaq had the pull of the bright lights in LA, the push of 90% of his own fans saying he wasn’t worth a max contract and $120 million on the table to go and play for the Lakers and follow in the footsteps of Kareem and Wilt. His metaphorical and actual bags were packed.
How Dominant Was Shaq in College?
Normally when a player gets drafted number one overall, you have to wonder whether or not he was worth the selection. In Shaq’s case, he was certainly worth it. He played three seasons in college with the LSU Tigers and compiled a mediocre 2-3 NCAA Tournament record. Despite the success in the tournament, he was still a seven-foot, center that weighed approximately 295 pounds. Any team in the league would have been interested in a player that big. Shaq had the numbers to back up his measurements. His averages throughout college were 21.6 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks per contest. All the while he was shooting 61 percent from the field. So, just looking at the stat sheet, teams could tell that he was a force on the offensive end. He was stellar when it came to bringing down rebounds and he was a phenomenal rim protector who averaged close to five rejections a night. Plus, he impacted winning more than a lot of other players. The Tigers had an overall record of 64-29 in three years with Shaq leading the charge, never once missing out on the NCAA Tournament. They finished as the number five, six, and seven seed in those three years and at a time even launched up to number two in the AP poll during his freshman season. A player with such great stats and impact on team success looked enticing for anybody that missed the playoffs in the NBA. Hence, why the Magic decided to jump on the opportunity to grab him with their pick.
Shaq’s Fantastic Rookie Season.
Shaq proved quickly that he was worth the top pick. In his rookie season with the Magic, he helped them finish with a 41-41 record. While that may not sound like a fantastic record on paper, it was 20 wins better than the Magics’ previous season record. Shaq went on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award and become the second player in league history to make it into the All-Star game in just his first season. The reason for that is not only because of that team’s success but also due to his averages of 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game. Although, he said that he couldn’t have done it without his mother. Lucille O’Neal had talked about some of the things that she and Shaq went through during that rookie season, and a ritual was one of them. Due to Shaq being just 19 when he entered the league, his mother traveled with him and went to every game. She said that before each game, she would give him bubblegum and a kiss before telling him to play his own game like a grown man. This adorable ritual coupled with the confidence he already had by being selected number one overall helped him skyrocket up to superstardom quickly. Few rookies in league history have had his type of impact on team success.