On July 18, 1996, Shaquille O’Neal signed a seven-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers worth $120 million, and it happened to be the first day of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. According to the AP’s Chris Sheridan back then, the future five time NBA Champion and Hall of Famer refused to discuss his deal with the Lakers.
However, there were plenty of his Dream Team 2 teammates talking about it including his former Orlando Magic teammate Penny Hardaway.
“It’s kind of devastating, but it’s one of those things where you have to wish him the best,″ said Hardaway.
According to former Magic guard and now Dallas Mavericks assistant coach, Darrell Armstrong, Penny was not notified ahead of time of O’Neal’s decision to leave, and found out about like everyone else through the media.
“I found out that he didn’t let Penny [Hardaway] know, Penny found when they were at the Olympics. When he announced it, said Armstrong on the What’s Your Opinion Podcast.
After Shaq left Orlando in 1996, he would go on to win 4 championships, three in Los Angeles, one in Miami, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2016 class.
In a 2015 interview with Los Angeles Times’ Eric Pincus, O’Neal admitted to having some regrets about leaving the Disney Kingdom.
“I regret it sometimes. Is this where I started and should have stayed?” said O’Neal.
“I actually wish they made it a law that whoever drafts you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career,” he said.
The Magic had a team on the rise with core players such Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, and Horace Grant and just went to the finals the season before, but were swept by the Houston Rockets.
“That’s why I kind of regret it, because we had a young, fabulous team,” O’Neal said. “We really did, and it’s a shame that we got torn apart. But I think about that all the time. I try not to live my life now on ‘ifs’ or ‘would’ve, should’ve,’ but do I regret leaving here in ’96? Yes I do.”