Although the Los Angeles Lakers have enjoyed their fair share of notable offseason signings, they all seem to pale in comparison to the day Shaquille O’Neal joined them.
The Lakers had been mired in mediocrity following the glory days of the ‘Showtime’ Lakers in the 1980s. Despite some of the talent the Lakers were able to bring on, they were still in desperate need of a game-changer.
Fortunately, Los Angeles still had general manager Jerry West in their front office calling some of the shots at the time. It was not long before West was able to poach the generational big man from the Orlando Magic.
It was on July 18, 1996 that the Lakers managed to pull off one of the biggest free agent signings in NBA history.
Prior to his arrival, O’Neal had already established himself as one of the league’s premier big man for what he was able to accomplish during his short tenure with the Magic. While he enjoyed plenty of success in Orlando early on, the lack of potential for sustained success led him to ponder going elsewhere.
Signing O’Neal was a major step in the right direction for the Lakers organization as it finally gave them a franchise player to build around moving forward. West had also pulled the trigger on trading for Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA Draft and the rest is history as they went on to form arguably the greatest duo in league history after combining to lead the Lakers to a three-peat in spectacular fashion.
Although the Lakers reigned supreme over the league at the height of their powers, things eventually started to crumble from within. Despite the rift between O’Neal and Bryant, they still proved to be perennial championship contenders.
Unfortunately, things would eventually hit a boiling point between the two and the front office was given an ultimatum between which player they wanted to keep. To no surprise, the Lakers sided with Bryant and O’Neal would go on to solidify his legacy with the Miami Heat before becoming a bit of a journeyman at the end of his career.
The pairing of these two superstars may not have ended as most fans would have hoped given their unceremonious break-up. Regardless, there is no denying that signing O’Neal not only helped the Lakers add to the lore of their historic franchise, but it also set a precedent for other future big men that hope to wear the purple and gold.