Those who watched Shaquille O’Neal throughout his career know how near impossible it was to guard him. There’s a reason why Diesel is considered the most dominant center of all time. He knew nobody could stop him from attacking the rim, and so did his opponents, coaches, and everyone in the stands.
The only strategy coaches could come up with to contain O’Neal during his prime was to expose his weakness, which is his inability to make free throws or shoot far away from the basket. It was Hall-of-Famer coach Don Nelson in particular who came up with the idea of “Hack-a-Shaq” to make the four-time champion earn his points instead of owning the paint.
Aside from “Hack-a-Shaq,” Nelson also had another intelligent strategy to motivate his team to throw O’Neal off his game.
A bonus reward for fouling Shaq out
Nelson, who coached the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, and New York Knicks, thought of the idea of rewarding his players with cash every time they drew a foul on O’Neal. Nelson’s goal was to always get the big man in foul trouble so he would spend a ton of time on the bench.
According to one of Nelson’s former players, Keith Jennings, Nelson rewarded $100 per foul a player would draw on O’Neal during their time with the Warriors. The best part? Nelson kept his promise and followed suit, as he did pay his players after the game.
“I remember when we played Orlando that night, when I tore my ACL, coach Nelson said ‘Anybody that gets a foul on Shaq, you know, I’ll give you a 100 dollars’ and so I did get a foul on him and I messed my knee up, and was late to get on the bus. When I finally got to the bus, I stoped by him [Nelson] because he sat on the front, and I said ‘Coach Nelson, do I still get that 100 dollars?’ And he was like ‘Oh, that’s right. You did get a foul on Shaq’ and he reached to his pocket and gave me a nice 100 dollars,” Jennings said in his appearance at The Handle Podcast.
Unfortunately, Jenning’s hard-earned 100 dollars came at the expense of him suffering a brutal ACL injury — the same injury that ended his short-lived professional basketball career. The ‘92 Warriors, led by Nelson, had a mediocre 34-48 record and didn’t sniff the Playoffs. Still, Nelson’s idea to stop Shaq was brilliant because who doesn’t want an extra 100 dollars, right?
The fact that a coach had to motivate their players to get O’Neal into foul trouble speaks volumes of how incredible and imposing the latter is as a player. This took place in 1992, which was only O’Neal’s first year in the league.
The most dominant center of all time was already averaging 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game during his rookie year. His biggest weakness besides his perimeter shooting was committing fouls, as he averaged 4.0 fouls a game that year.
Fortunately for O’Neal, his kryptonite didn’t stop him from winning multiple championships, MVPs and solidifying his name as one the greatest players ever to play the game.