Contract negotiations between a player and a team happen behind closed doors. After the deal is done, fans are informed more about the contract details. But in the summer of 1996, the media — particularly the Orlando Sentinel — thought it would be smart to ask the fans if their superstar center Shaquille O’Neal was worth $115 million. It was a ridiculous poll that might have driven O’Neal to take his talents to Los Angeles.
In the summer of 1996, when Shaq was debating whether to stay in Orlando or pack his bags to go elsewhere, the Orlando Sentinel asked his readers to answer a poll: “Is Shaq worth $115 million?” It’s a ridiculous idea, even at face value. And the result was even more catastrophic. Per CBS Sports:
“Playing to that debate, the Orlando Sentinel conducted a poll asking whether Shaq was worth $115 million. At that time, you could’ve asked that question about any player in the NBA, probably including Jordan, and fans would’ve said no, and sure enough, over 90 percent of the some 5,000 people who responded didn’t feel Shaq was worth the money.”
It’s ludicrous that Magic fans did not think Shaq — the star center who guided the team to multiple playoff appearances and the NBA Finals — should get his money bag. But to be fair, things were very different in the 90s.
Teams weren’t keen on handing out $100 million contracts to players. And just like today, team executives in the 90s lacked foresight. Alonzo Mourning and Juwan Howard — legit big men but nowhere near O’Neal’s talent — had just signed lucrative seven-year, $105 million deals. O’Neal wanted to get the same treatment as his fellow bigs. But the Magic merely offered him a $55 million, four-year contract.
The hilarious thing is that the Magic eventually offered Shaq a seven-year, $115 million deal. But this was after the Lakers, helmed by general manager Jerry West, offered him a $120 million, seven-year deal. After inking the contract, Shaq infamously said when asked if he joined LA because of the money: “I’m tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok.”
We all know what happened afterward in LA when Shaq formed a formidable duo with the great Kobe Bryant and won three titles in a row. The Magic, for their part, were blessed with Tracy McGrady later, but it yielded little success. If only they had just given Shaq the offer he deserved and told the Orlando Sentinel to stay in their lane.