In the summer of 1996, Shaquille O’Neal made a decision that would change the landscape of the NBA when he left the Orlando Magic and signed a $121 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. It took the Magic years to recover and return to the NBA Finals after Shaq’s departure.
On Friday, Shaq was inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame, and he expressed regret about leaving Orlando for the Lakers via Kyle Hightower of the Associated Press:
That’s why I kind of regret it, because we had a young, fabulous team,” O’Neal said. “We really did. And it’s a shame that we got torn apart. But I think about that all the time. I try not to live my life now on ‘ifs’ or ‘would’ve, should’ve,’ but do I regret leaving here in ’96, yes I do.”
Along with Shaq, that Magic team boasted the excellent backcourt of Penny Hardaway and Nick Anderson and had made the Finals in 1995. Shaq, however, was impatient and wanted to win immediately:
I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that is I wanted to win then. Even when I got (to Los Angeles) I still got bashed, it took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young and I thought that if I go there, with those guys out there I could win right away and that wasn’t the case.”
It did take Shaq four years, but he would team with Kobe Bryant to form one of the best duos in NBA history. Shaq would win three rings, three Finals MVPs, and a regular season MVP. His jersey already hangs from the Staples Center rafters.
Who knows what would’ve happened had Shaq remained in Orlando, it will go down as one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in NBA history. Thankfully for Lakers fans, Shaq came to Hollywood and helped make the Lakers the premier franchise of the 2000s.
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