In the summer of 1996, the Los Angeles Lakers brass finally realized their Showtime era was over. Despite Dr. Jerry Buss's attempt of appointing Magic Johnson as the Lakers' head coach in 1994 and convincing him to come out of retirement and take on the court again as a player once again, Buss knew after then that Showtime had run its course.
Shaq to the rescue
So when Johnson retired from basketball for the second time, Buss and his management turned their eyes to the most potent free agent available in 1996 — Shaquille O'Neal. They did everything they could to acquire O'Neal to the point that they offered him a 7-year $120 Million contract, which marked one of the biggest signings in the history of the NBA.
This also happened to be the time when Kobe Bryant was on the NBA draft market, and while the Lakers (specifically Jerry West) wanted Bryant as well, their main focus in the summer of 1996 was bringing O'Neal to Los Angeles.
What O'Neal meant for the Lakers does not get talked about enough
It's easy to associate O'Neal with Bryant and vice versa because, without each other, they probably wouldn't have multiple championship rings. But unlike Bryant, O'Neal is perceived as the player that went on to be a journeyman after his 3-peat run and feud with Kobe — which is why Shaq isn't as beloved as Kobe is by Lakers fans.
Still, many people have quite forgotten that O'Neal, who the Lakers acquired in 1996 for a maximum contract deal, was the player that turned the organization around in the early 2000s. Dr. Buss even admitted that it was Shaq who the Lakers desperately chased after in 1996.
Shaq will always be considered a legendary icon for Los Angeles because, without him, the Lakers wouldn't have recovered from the drought they suffered post-Showtime era. Shaq was more than just the most dominant big man in the game but also an entertainer who celebrities around the city (and world) came to see play.
Just ask Snoop Dogg, who did everything he could to watch The Diesel up close.
The biggest Lakers fan in the world wanted to watch Shaq.
According to Snoop Dogg, he used to call O'Neal almost before every game to hook him up with tickets. Of course, Snoop wouldn't be doing this if he and The Diesel didn't share a close friendship, and knowing O'Neal's friendly nature in general, he probably was generous enough to give Snoop Dogg not just one but several tickets.
"I used to blow his a** up to get free tickets. 'Shaq it's the Dogg, what's happening?' That's what you hear on the pager. 'It's Snoop Dogg. I need nine tickets, leave em at the gate," Snoop Dogg said.
Aside from Snoop and Shaq's friendship, it was clear that O'Neal was the high-profile superstar that celebrities like Snoop Dawg flocked to Los Angeles to watch — at least in the early 2000s before Bryant developed into a superstar and turned into an icon in his own right.