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“My job was to make sure that Shaq didn't get in any trouble” — John Salley said the Los Angeles Lakers hired him to be Shaquille O'Neal's babysitter

John Salley was earning $1.3 million dollars just to tell Shaq what he should and should not do.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets former player and NBA player John Salley and Los Angeles Lakers Shaquille O'Neal

John Salley and Shaquille O'Neal

After 4-time NBA champion John Salley left the NBA in 1996, he returned in 1999 but this time with the Los Angeles Lakers under Phil Jackson's leadership. Clearly, he was no longer the same player, but his veteran presence was valuable enough to keep Shaquille O'Neal in check. The Lakers tasked Salley to be O'Neal's ear whisperer in exchange for a veteran's minimum on a championship contender.

Salley did his part.

Aside from the veteran minimum deal contract, Salley said that he and Jackson had an agreement about the former only playing every 5 games. Jackson, who wanted O'Neal to focus on basketball instead of his extracurricular activities outside of the court, needed someone to keep their eyes on O'Neal, which was why Salley's services were valuable.

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"My job really was to make sure that Shaq didn't get in any trouble. I told Phil, 'I'll play every 5 games.' One time he walked up, he said, 'You taped?' I said, 'Bruh, this Game 4.' Come on, man. He's sitting down there making $22 million. Y'all paying me Shaq's per diem. Get that big boy out. I thought I was gonna stay, but Phil told me he had no real estate. And I understood that I was still earning $1.3 million telling Shaq' Young fella, young fella.'" Salley revealed in his latest appearance on The Byron Scott Podcast.

In the same season, Salley played 43 games and started in 3 of those. He averaged 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.7 minutes per game, proving he could no longer keep up on the court. Still, he earned a championship ring with the Lakers after the team's successful run, and it's all because of the veteran leadership and presence he provided.

Why veteran presence is underrated

In NBA today, there are at least 15 roster spots, but some teams opt to use 1 for a veteran leader. Take the Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem as an example, who may no longer have the legs to play but is the strongest voice (next to Erik Spoelstra) in the Heat's locker room. Like Haslem, Jackson believed Salley's voice was essential because he had the experience that young O'Neal and Kobe Bryant didn't.

A veteran leader almost always plays the role of the bridge between the coach and a young player or superstar in the making. At least Salley did his job by keeping O'Neal out of trouble and pushed him to win his 1st out of 3 championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

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