Although they only played three seasons together in Orlando, Shaq and Penny left us with many memories and one of the biggest “what if’s” in NBA history. Shaquille O’Neal ended up getting his rings with the late great Kobe Bryant and a young Dwyane Wade, but unfortunately Penny Hardaway never did. If Shaq would’ve stayed in Orlando and Penny never got hurt, would these two have won a championship together? If so, how many?
O’Neal arrived to Los Angeles in 1996 and in 1999 he was still after his first NBA Championship. The Lakers signed Jackson as their head coach hoping to change that and he had some recommendations for Shaq.
Shaquille O’Neal averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks in 34.7 minutes over 1,207 career games in 19 years with the Magic, Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavaliers and Celtics.
In an interview at Rich Eishen’s show, Shaq revealed details about his relationship with Phil Jackson, what it was like to meet him and Jackson’s requests for him:
“He brought a resume. If he says, ‘Do this,’ we all know that he knows what he’s talking about. Because every summer when we’d lose, we’d watch him in the Finals. … When I first met him, he said, ‘Look, if you listen to me, you’ll be MVP. You listen to me, you will win a championship.’ And I said, ‘Cool.’
First thing he said, ‘No more albums, limit your commercials and do everything I say.’ And I agreed, and it was probably the best years that I played. Once we had that formula of how to win, we were just thirsty for more.”
Jeff Pearlman’s book Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty, broke down more details of their first interactions.
“Frustrated by one lost season after another, O’Neal spent the summer lifting weights, watching what he ate, ingesting creatine and other supplements.
“I was huge,” he said. “Solid bulk.”
“How much you weigh?” Jackson asked.
“I don’t know,” O’Neal replied.
“I want you to lose about 15 pounds,” Jackson said. “The bigger you are, the harder it’s gonna be on your knees, and I want you playing 40 minutes a game.”
“Okay,” O’Neal replied.”
Penny Hardaway, going into his third season, was already a full-blown star. He got his new signature shoe line and was playing with a mystifying combination of flair, skill and power.
Penny helped Shaq lead the Magic to 60 wins and finished third in MVP voting. Hardaway averaged 21.7 points and 7.1 assists. The Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic finished on top of the East and each blasted through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Jordan’s will to win helped the Bulls get a 72-10 record. The Bulls also got payback against the Magic, sweeping them in the Eastern Conference Finals before winning their fourth NBA Championship, beating the Seattle SuperSonics.
After that season, Shaquille O’Neal decided to sign with the Lakers and left Penny with no chance to compete with Jordan and Pippen. At the same time, injuries started to derail Penny’s prime. There’s an alternate universe where Shaq stays in Orlando and Penny’s knees hold up, and we get a few more years of Bulls vs. Magic battles.