The Orlando Magic selected Louisiana State center Shaquille O’Neal with the first overall pick in the 1992 draft. O’Neal played four of seasons in Orlando, making the All-Star team all four years as well as being named the 1993 Rookie of the Year.
While he went to the NBA Finals once as a member of the Magic, he opted to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency in 1996, where he went on to win three consecutive championships from 2000-02, winning the Finals Most Valuable Player award in all three seasons, as well as an NBA MVP award in 2000.
A couple of guys, Brian Shaw and Horace Grant, played with O’Neal both in Orlando and Los Angeles, so they better than anyone can judge where he was better.
Shaw played with O’Neal in Orlando from 1994-96 and in Los Angeles from 2000-04, winning all three championships with O’Neal on the Lakers. Surprisingly, Shaw believes that O’Neal was at his best physically when he was on the Magic, not the Lakers, via Bill Oram of the OC Register:
“You can argue that, physically, those were his best years,” Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw said, “because nobody could get up and down the floor at that size and do the things that he could as a young player.”
In his four years with Orlando O’Neal averaged 27.2 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game while he averaged 27.0 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in eight years with Los Angeles.
Although his most productive years were as a member of the Lakers, Shaw might be right in saying his younger years on the Magic may have been his best physically and athletically as no man of Shaq’s size had ever been able to move in that way.
O’Neal is a member of the 2016 Hall of Fame class as he will be inducted Friday along with Allen Iverson and Yao Ming, among others.