Skip to main content

Shaquille O'Neal used to deflate balls before games so he could palm it "a la Michael Jordan"

The freight train that he was, Shaquille O'Neal still looked for other ways to gain a competitive advantage over his peers. It turns out deflating balls before games was his go-to during his championship years with the Lakers
Shaquille O'Neal used to deflate balls before games

Shaquille O'Neal vs. San Antonio Spurs

You'd think that being 7-1, 325 lbs was enough. But not for Shaquille O'Neal.

The freight train that he was, Diesel still looked for other ways to gain a competitive advantage over his peers. It turns out deflating balls before games was his go-to.

"I'd have a needle"

According to ESPN's Baxter Holmes, O'Neal admitted he would walk up to the ball rack before the tip-off, "let a little bit of air out, squeeze it," and get it to his liking.

"Sometimes, in the games during all my championship runs, if a ball was too hard, I let air out," Shaq said. "I’d have a needle. A friend of mine would have a needle and I would get the game ball. … I needed that extra grip, but I wasn’t doing that for cheating purposes. I just needed the extra grip for my hands so I could palm it, a la Michael Jordan, the way he used to palm it."

Shaq's hand size is estimated to be 10.25 inches in length and 12 inches wide -- for comparison's sake, Giannis' hand measurements are 9.85/12 inches. Still, Shaq felt like he needed to go out of his way to make sure that palming the ball is never an issue.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Some would say what he did should be considered cheating; the Hall of Famer himself would disagree. 

"Because, first of all, I'm not aware of any letter of the law that says, you can't let air out of the ball," O'Neal said. "I'm not aware of that. Second of all, it's all about my [comfort level]. A lot of times, if the balls have too much air in them, they're too bouncy. I didn't want them to be bouncy. I needed that grip."

Shaq isn't the only one to do it

This is far from a common NBA practice, but O'Neal isn't the first one to do it. 

In a story published in 1986, Phil Jackson told the Chicago Tribune that the championship Knicks of the 70s were doing the same thing, deflating the balls to a minimum to slow the game down.

“We were a short team with our big guys like Willis , our center, only about 6-8 and Jerry Lucas also 6-8, DeBusschere, 6-6. So what we had to rely on was boxing out and hoping the rebound didn’t go long. To help ensure that, we’d try to take some air out of the ball. You see, on the ball it says something like ‘inflate to 7 to 9 pounds.’ We’d all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball," Jackson said.

To say deflated balls were a decisive factor in both teams' championship runs would be a reach -- especially in Shaq's case who, alongside Kobe Bryant, orchestrated one of the most dominant stretches of basketball we've ever seen. But the correlation is there.

Two guys admitted to tampering with the air pressure in basketballs. Both of them have NBA rings to show for it.  

Oh, and btw, Tom Brady was doing the same thing. It's safe to say it worked for him.

Larry Bird shares a trash talking story involving Larry Bird

"You better ask for a double team, bruh" -- John Salley on the time he was tasked with guarding Larry Bird 1-on-1

One jumper later, Salley realized Chuck Daly and the Pistons might need to change their defensive approach on Bird

New Jersey Nets guard Kenny Anderson

Kenny Anderson on his legacy — “Young kids don’t know me too well, but their parents do”

Kenny Anderson doesn't feel the need to explain that he was once one of the best point guards in the game.


Magic Johnson shares who is the greatest player he ever played against

Magic played against a lot of great players, but one guy particularly stands out!

Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green and Bill Simmons

Jalen Green has a message for Bill Simmons after earning a spot on the All-Rookie first team

As soon as the list of awardees was announced, the first thing Jalen Green did was tweet a special shoutout to Bill Simmons.

Real Madrid guard Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic slept like a baby before the then biggest game of his life

Former teammate at Real Madrid Fabien Causeur was astonished that Luka Doncic was able to sleep like a baby before the biggest game of his career.