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“People Said I Got Stan Van Gundy Fired”: Shaquille O’Neal in 2011 Denied Allegations of Getting Heat Coach Fired, Blamed Pat Riley Instead

Rishabh Bhatnagar

"People Said I Got Stan Van Gundy Fired": Shaquille O'Neal in 2011 Refused Allegations of Getting Heat Coach Fired, Blamed Pat Riley Instead

Back in 2005, then Miami Heat head coach Stan Van Gundy resigned from his post. The decision came as a huge surprise for many as Heat President Pat Riley replaced him as the head coach of Miami. While rumors swirled that Gundy had been fired at the behest of Shaquille O’Neal, the big man eventually responded to them in his 2011 book, Shaq Uncut. O’Neal claimed it was franchise president Pat Riley, not him, who pushed Gundy out.

Shaq admitted that while Gundy did not deserve to be fired, the entire team knew that he was close to being removed. “We all knew Stan was a dead man walking. I kind of felt sorry for the guy. He didn’t deserve to get fired. My first year, in 2004–05, we went to the Conference Finals and lost to Detroit in Game 7. They let Stan go in December of the following season. I was injured at the time,” Shaq wrote in his book, referring to a niggling knee injury that resulted in him struggling throughout the season.

Shaq went on to reveal that he had nothing to do with the decision. On the contrary, Riley wanted to return as the coach and had Van Gundy fired, according to the four-time NBA Champion. As evidence, Shaq claimed that he never wanted to play under Pat Riley in the first place.

One of the things that ticked me off was people said I got Stan fired. They said I wouldn’t play for him and I waited to come back until he was gone. I can tell you there wasn’t an ounce of truth to that. Are you crazy? Did you really think I wanted to play for Pat Riley instead?” he claimed, fairly believably, considering that Riley was infamous for his strict fitness and weight restrictions, something Shaq never approved.

Regardless, the Diesel added that it was Riley who wanted to replace Gundy, and effectively pushed him out. “Stan got fired because Pat wanted to take over, not because I wanted him out. I had no control over it—not a smidgen of control. We all kind of knew it was coming because Pat and Stan were always arguing. Pat would come down and tell Stan how to do something and Stan would want to do it his own way, and that was a fine game plan if you wanted to get yourself fired,” he added.

Pat Riley’s regime put an end to Shaq’s carefree Miami lifestyle. The big man hated working out under Riley. However, the ‘Godfather’s coaching would bring Miami its first ever NBA Championship in 2006.

Stan Van Gundy and Pat Riley maintained that the former was not fired

While Shaquille O’Neal effectively claimed in his book that Van Gundy’s resignation was a firing, Stand Van Gundy and Pat Riley both begged to differ, according to ESPN. Riley had said that he did not even think about a replacement when Gundy resigned, claiming that he was happy for him.

The head coach himself claimed that the decision to leave was his own, rather than a sacking. “If I’m getting forced out, I would have gotten absolutely every dollar on my contract and walked out the door. That’s not what happened here… Anybody who’s speculating otherwise has to do so in total disregard of the facts of the situation,” he said, before talking about why he wanted to step down.

Gundy claimed that he wanted to spend more time with his family, but ended up returning to the league as the head coach of the Orlando Magic, just two years later, in 2007. 

About the author

Rishabh Bhatnagar

Rishabh Bhatnagar


Rishabh Bhatnagar is a Senior NBA Writer at The SportsRush. A lifelong NBA fan, Rishabh has been working as an NBA journalist since 2017. Before joining The SportsRush, he covered the NBA for another popular media platform. Rishabh is a bona fide NBA Historian specializing in uncovering stories from the league's past. He also likes covering trade rumors and player contracts. Rishabh has written almost 800 articles for The SportsRush and is always on the lookout for intriguing NBA stories. He is also a published novelist and an ardent Lakers fan.

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