As we all know, Shaquille O’Neal has all the accolades of a winner. He’s a 15-time NBA All-Star, four-time NBA champion, and three-time Finals MVP, among others. But like any other celebrated NBA superstar, Shaq had to endure defeat to learn how to win.
Shaq was tired of losing
Prior to becoming the cornerstone of the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaq first hit his stride with the Orlando Magic. Alongside Penny Hardaway, “Diesel” spearheaded the Magic past Michael Jordan and the vaunted Chicago Bulls in the Eastern semis only to get swept by the Houston Rockets in the Finals.
The following season, Shaq and Jordan faced each other again in the Eastern Finals, and this time, the Bulls swept the Magic. Jordan left O’Neal a parting message.
“Michael Jordan told me after they swept us, ‘Before you succeed, you must first learn to fail,’” O’Neal recalled in PBD Podcast.
Shaq left the Magic for the Lakers and found a new co-star in a then-teenage Kobe Bryant. Everything was fresh and new, and O’Neal thought he had come to the right place to win. However, Shaq found himself in the same exact place when the Utah Jazz swept them in the Western Conference semi-finals in 1998, and San Antonio Spurs did the same in 1999.
After getting eliminated, O’Neal remembered what Jordan told him a few years ago and thought his time would never come. Fueled by anger and frustration, O’Neal wreaked havoc in the locker room’s bathroom.
“I just got tired of failing…One time we got swept by the Spurs and I went in the bathroom and I ripped up all the toilets, all the urinals. There was shit flying everywhere,” O’Neal continued.
Needless to say, nobody on the team dared to stop a 7-foot-1 giant, let alone an enraged one. Luckily, then-Lakers GM Jerry West, whom Shaq revealed “was strong as hell too,” managed to grab and console him.
As Shaq described in a different interview, The Logo “kinda like brought me on my tippy toes a little bit.“
MJ was right
Despite being shattered, O’Neal did not completely succumb to his failures. Instead, he used the nightmares of getting swept multiple times as motivation and returned stronger than ever.
As it turned out, Jordan was right. In 2000, Shaq and the Lakers dominated the league en route to the first championship of the storied franchise’s historic three-peat.
The road to an NBA title is no walk in the park. If anything, it’s arduous. So, it’s understandable that Shaq grew tired of getting swept. But the most important thing is that he realized that whenever you’re down, there’s no other way but to go up.