Horace Grant says that watching Shaq leave the Orlando Magic to join the Los Angeles Lakers was like getting hit by Mike Tyson.
Shaq was the NBA’s ‘Player of the Week’ in his first week in the league and so it was clear from the get-go that he was a force to be reckoned with. Getting drafted number one overall by the Orlando Magic, O’Neal wasted no time in developing as he led them to a record with 20 more wins than the previous year.
By the time Shaq was in his sophomore season, he was already the lead guy on the Magic alongside Penny Hardaway, taking them to the Playoffs. After getting swept in the first round by the Pacers in ‘94, they took a massive leap and made the NBA Finals in 1995 where they would get swept by Hakeem Olajuwon and his Rockets.
While ‘The Big Aristotle’ was putting up All-NBA numbers, Penny Hardaway was playing second fiddle to him. Many forget that before O’Neal collided with Kobe Bryant on the Lakers, he was battling with Penny on who the lead guy was on the Magic.
Their fall-out came following them getting swept by Michael Jordan and his Bulls in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals.
Horace Grant on seeing Shaq leave the Magic.
Horace Grant was used to being on a successful team. He was a part of the Chicago Bulls’ first 3-peat and was there for their year without Michael Jordan as well, where they took the Knicks to 7 games in the ECSF. He would find himself on the Magic on the year after and make it to the NBA Finals once again.
Due to the fact that he had signed a long term deal with the Magic, he was extremely wary of the tumultuous relationship Penny Hardaway had with Shaq. He knew them falling out would mean one of them leaving and along with them, their chances of competing for a championship.
When asked about by Bills Simmons if he knew whether or not Shaq would leave the Magic, Grant actually says no. But he does reveal that O’Neal called him one night during that 1996 season but he was too busy to pick up the phone, a decision he regrets now.
“He called me and I didn’t return his call before he signed with the Lakers. To this day, I wish I had just answered that call and maybe he would’ve still been in Orlando.”
“I saw it on the news and Bill, seriously, it was like someone hit me, like Mike Tyson hit me. You cannot recover from a guy that size, in his prime, that dominant- to think that you’re going to win a championship.”
Horace would eventually win a championship with Shaq as he found himself on the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers roster that went 15-1 in the NBA Playoffs.