On July 18, 1996, Shaquille O’Neal agreed on a lucrative deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, turning his back on the Orlando Magic as a free agent. The Magic had it in hand to hold one of the most dominant centers of all time. Only they played their cards completely wrong – in contrast to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Is Shaquille O’Neal worth $ 115 million over seven years?” With this question on the front page the Orlando Sentinel In mid-July 1996 to his readership, primarily fans of the Orlando Magic. A little more than 5000 people register by telephone with the daily newspaper, which publishes the result a few days later.
The answer to this simple question is clear – but not as you would expect it to be almost a quarter of a century later. A whopping 91.3 percent of callers vote for a clear “No”. On average $ 16.4 million a year for just one player? “Crazy,” a caller sums up the idea.
At the end of the 1990s, this is an almost unimaginable salary for a basketball professional Sentinel Deal under discussion in times of an ever increasing salary cap (at least until before the corona crisis) almost like a mess. Especially for a player of a Shaq caliber.
The Big Diesel was a beast even then. In his first four years in the Association in the jersey of the Orlando Magic, O’Neal maltreated his opponents in rows, his yield of 27.2 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks at 58.1 percent from the field can do more than let see.
The center did not dismantle in the years that followed. On the contrary. He became one of the best big men ever to dominate the NBA zones, won a total of four championships, won three MVP finals. The Magic let this player go in the summer of 1996. Because they’re too stingy.
Shaquille O’Neal: Hollywood instead of pinstripes
In the person of Shaq, the Magic lose the actor who actually only established the franchise on the map of the NBA. The team from Florida was not launched until 1989, but the No. 1 pick from 1992 led the team from the city of just under 290,000 to a meteoric rise already in the early 90s.
Together with Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, who joins the team as a No. 3 pick a year after Shaq, the 2.16-meter colossus leads the Magic to the finals in the sixth year of its existence. On the way there they even clear a certain Michael Jordan out of the way. But the 1995 finals are lost, a year later MJ takes a sweep at Orlando in the east finals.
The Magic’s soaring is over – for a long, long time, which nobody could have guessed at the time. Only a year after the greatest triumph of the franchise history at that time, the preliminary low point was waiting on July 18, 1996: Shaq signs as a free agent with the Los Angeles Lakers. Hollywood instead of Disney World. Title hunt in purple and gold instead of pinstripes.
Extension with Shaq? Orlando Magic has it in hand
The Magic had it in their own hands to hold Shaq. When the then 24-year-old became a free agent for the first time in his career in the summer of 1996, there were no regulations regarding a maximum salary or an expensive luxury tax if the salary cap was overdrawn ($ 24.4 million for the 1996/97 season). Both are only recorded in the CBA after the lockout in 1998.
The center itself is initially not averse to extending the contract in Orlando. The Magic hold it Bird rights for Shaq may therefore extend with your player, even if the new contract would exceed the salary cap. If the offer fits, The Big Aristotle can imagine a quick signature. Only: the offer does not fit at all.
The Magic put an offer of $ 54 million on the table for four years, as Joel Corry later added CBS Sports remind. Corry then worked as a consultant for Shaq’s agent Leonard Armato and was involved in the negotiations. The first offer may be half of what O’Neal and his team imagined.
At the same time, Alonzo Mourning and Juwan Howard receive significantly better contracts with more than $ 100 million over seven years from the Heat and Wizards – a lower endowment than the two, in his eyes, less talented competitors, is out of the question for Shaq.
Hanebüchene review: Orlando Magic scare away Shaq
But instead of fulfilling the wishes of the franchise star, the Magic managers try to downplay Shaq’s value. “The most confusing part of the conversation, I will never forget, was when the Magic started criticizing O’Neal’s rebounding and defense. Are you going to hug me?” Said Corry in retrospect.
Another Magic argument: In a few years, an extension of the contract with Penny Hardaway is waiting for the team, you have to maintain a certain financial flexibility. Shaq feels twice stepped on the tie. On the one hand the outrageous criticism of his game, on the other hand he did not seem to enjoy full priority among those responsible.
Unsurprisingly, the superstar’s dissatisfaction calls on the competition, especially the Los Angeles Lakers with general manager Jerry West. The Lakers legend knows how to advertise the traditional Hollywood franchise. Shaq could follow in the footsteps of big men legends like George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And, of course, to advance his acting career.
Armato supposedly wanted to guide his client to the Lakers anyway. In Hollywood’s glitz and glamor, the superstar can expect significantly more advertising presence and more opportunities to earn money than in the comparatively tranquil Orlando.