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"How much money does she want?" — How the nosy Orlando media drove Shaquille O’Neal out of town

The Orlando media's treatment of Shaquille O'Neal was one of the factors why the Big Diesel flocked to Los Angeles.

Money was just one of the reasons why Shaquille O'Neal chose the Los Angeles Lakers over the Orlando Magic. After the Purple and Gold lured the Big Diesel to LA, reports mushroomed that the Orlando media was one of the institutions that drove Shaq out of town.

Gold digger

Shaq was the biggest fish in the free agent sea of 1996. Though the Magic, whom Shaq guided to multiple playoff appearances, including an NBA Finals berth, were the heavy favorites to lure him back in, O'Neal's relationship with the city wasn't particularly rosy. He was given tabloid treatment by various media outlets. They were sniffing around his personal life, which Shaq wasn't particularly comfortable with. After all, they hinted that Arnetta Yardbourgh, O'Neal's girlfriend then, was a gold digger. A report by Sports Illustrated stated:

"That's another thing that drove Shaq from Orlando--the way people in the town dealt with Arnetta's pregnancy. 'They said, 'So, where'd he meet her, in a hotel?. How much money does she want?' They just assumed it was some dirty thing. Now people want to know why she isn't living with me. She's going to school [masters program, communications, Houston]. What am I gonna do, say, 'No, you need to move here right now?'"

The personal assault did not stop there. The media also had their beady eyes set on Arnetta's pregnancy. The media expected Shaq would announce a wedding ceremony soon. And when their expectations were not met, they accused Shaq of being a bad example to kids. A report by Sports Illustrated read:

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"Sources say the results rankled Shaq, who had been stung by earlier assertions in the Orlando media that he was not a good role model because he was having a child with his longtime girlfriend but did not announce immediate plans to marry."

Different era, same reasons

The Shaq-Orlando media conflict occurred in the mid-90s — way before the social media era. Players today claim that social media — which has given fans unprecedented access to their personal lives — has affected their professional careers for better or worse.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, LeBron James. These are just some of the names that have been lambasted repeatedly by the public. Some of them have taken such criticisms in stride. But most of them, like Shaq, were heavily affected by it to the point that they sought greener pastures elsewhere.

Perhaps that's the great lesson to be learned here. We can accuse NBA players of being spoiled millionaires who will walk out of their contract whenever they see fit. But at the same time, these superhuman athletes also have everyday needs: a city they could call home, a city where they feel loved.

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