Shaquille O'Neal admits he initially didn't like Karl Malone because he thought Malone was a sellout, but soon after playing together and getting to know each other better on the Dream Team, Shaq was able to see how wrong he was about one of the best power forwards in NBA history.
He thought Malone was a sellout
Having prejudice about someone before even getting to know them is a regular occurrence in human behavior. Everybody does it, and often, people later realize they were utterly wrong about a specific person and their character. That is what happened with Shaquille O'Neal, who initially couldn't stand Karl Malone thinking he was a sellout because of how he talked and how he dressed.
In his book 'Shaq Talks Back', one of the most dominant centers talks about how when he was younger and didn't know better had some serious prejudice towards some people, with Karl Malone being one of them. Malone was a straight-up country boy while Shaq was a city boy, and this is where the initial misunderstanding came from because of their different upbringing, culture, and overall view of the world around them.
"Always accused of being a sellout. Like, what brother do you know rides a Harley-Davidson and wears jeans and boots? But he's from the country in Louisiana. Country brothers are different from city brothers. Country brothers wear jeans, and they farm, and they hunt, and they fish. City brothers don't do that. City brothers ride around; we got to have the dopest clothes, we got to have the gold chains. They're different. But that's just how Karl grew up. He never changed. He liked driving that big eighteen-wheeler truck."
Shaq admitted he was wrong about Malone
Shaq learned Malone was always true to himself no matter who was in the room with him, which wasn't always the case in Shaq's life, as he admits. When he came to Orlando, he wanted to make everyone else happy at that time of his life, which led to him being unhappy. He soon learned there was no real reason to dislike someone like Malone, who was always true to himself and what he stood for both in his private life and in the spotlight.
"Another reason I like Karl is because he lives for himself. When I was first living in Orlando, I tried to do things to make everybody else happy. You can't live like that. You got to stick with what made you successful. I started living for myself. I can say now I was a hypocrite when it came to how I felt about Karl early in his career. See, like when you're a competitor, in order for me to dominate you, I have to not like you. So I forced myself not to like him because he was on the other team."
The only way people can get rid of their prejudice towards someone is if they actually spend some time with the person and get to know each other better. Shaq had the opportunity to meet Malone when they were teammates for the Dream Team II in Atlanta back in 1996. That summer together, playing on the same team was a wake-up call from Shaq about Malone, after which everything changed about his perception of the famous power forward.
Shaq even details a discussion the two had in which he openly admitted to Malone he didn't like him because Shaq thought Malone was arrogant, but when he saw what a dedicated family man Malone was, that is when it all changed for Shaq.
"But when we played on the Olympic team together in Atlanta, I realized he worked hard, and he was a family man. His kids love him. I told him, "You know, I didn't like you at first." He said, "I didn't like you. I thought you were arrogant, you didn't care. But now I see that you're a nice person, I see that you're silly." So I admit I was a hypocrite with Karl, a guy who I thought was a sellout but turned out to be a real, good person, true to himself."
The two had their fair share of battles on the basketball court, especially during Shaq's first few seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq and his team were swept by Malone and the Jazz two years in a row which was disappointing for Shaq. As we all know, he would later conquer the NBA but getting through Malone, and the well-coached Jazz team was a big challenge. The two would even become teammates in 2004, in Malone's last season in the NBA, when Shaq invited Malone to join the Lakers to secure him his first championship, but that didn't happen because the Detroit Pistons were a far more superior team.
Malone never changed his appearance and demeanor no matter how famous he was in the NBA and really remained true to himself. It's also admirable for Shaq to admit he initially disliked Malone because he thought some way of him but soon realized Shaq was wrong after getting to know him better, understanding his background and what type of person he was.