Long before he was in the headlines for his statements as an NBA analyst on TNT, Shaquille O'Neal was causing havoc in the NBA world, proven by his numerous accolades (4x NBA Champion, 15x All-Star, 1xMVP, 3x Finals MVP, and many more).
Most fans know him as a Laker, but before he built a legacy in LA, Shaq started his NBA career in Orlando, playing for the Magic - one of the best teams never to win a championship, as you had a young Shaq playing alongside guys like Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, Denis Scott, Horace Grant, etc. They came pretty close in 1995 when they made the Finals but they got swept by the Houston Rockets. Shaq said his years in Orlando were "probably the best years of my life."
O'Neil played a pretty good series, but his team had no chance of winning it. However, it seems even though he was Orlando's best player in the Finals, Shaq blames himself for the loss, as he explained his reasoning on the "All The Smoke" podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes:
"That was my fault we lost. As a leader, I didn't lead. After we beat the Bulls, I let up. 'We beat Mike, we straight.' We played in Houston before, Hakeem's gonna get 27. And we had 8 days off. Me and D-Scott were doing stuff we weren't supposed to be doing."
Shaquille O'Neal, All The Smoke
Shaq averaged 28.0 ppg, 12.5 rpg, and 6.3 apg, but it wasn't about the stats. It was about the mindset he came into the Finals. After managing to beat Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the playoffs, Shaq and his crew felt the job was done, got relaxed, and way too confident taking their foot off the gas. Unfortunately, it would prove to be a big mistake, as the superstar in Houston, Hakeem Olajuwon, was ready to dominate those finals, which he exactly did, winning the Rockets their second straight title.
“So we beat them [the Bulls], I’m partying like a mug. I have a 60,000 square foot house, I’m bringing people over; cause in my mind I already had the championship won. But, you broke the major rule, the basketball gods paid me back, very nicely. We already had a mini-parade at Disney.”
Shaquille O'Neal, TODAY
It is pretty admirable to see Shaq take it upon himself and say he should have gotten his team readier and motivated at just 23 years old. But, luckily for him, he would learn from his mistakes and make it a task to dominate the next time he makes the Finals. So the next three trips would end up in him winning three rings and three Finals MVPs. Great stuff from the "Big Diesel."