Shaq Criticizes Magic for Lack of Support After Grandmother's Passing

Exploring Shaq's emotional fallout with Orlando Magic management.

by Nouman Rasool
Shaq Criticizes Magic for Lack of Support After Grandmother's Passing
© Doug Pensinger/Allsport/Getty Images

Shaquille O'Neal, the celebrated center, had a notably tumultuous tenure with the Orlando Magic, which culminated in a controversial departure in 1996. Drafted first overall in 1992, O'Neal was instrumental in propelling the Magic to the forefront of the Eastern Conference, leading them to the NBA Finals by his third season.

Despite their loss to Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets, O'Neal's performance was a high point of his early career. However, his move to the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1996 was not just about a lucrative contract; it was also fueled by a strained relationship with the Magic's management, particularly over their handling of personal matters close to his heart.

The most poignant issue revolved around the death of his grandmother, Odessa Chambliss, a key figure in his upbringing and emotional support.

Shaq's Public Criticism

The conflict peaked when O'Neal was late arriving for a crucial nationally televised game against Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

The Magic's management, rather than explaining his situation, left the media and public in the dark, suggesting they were unaware of his whereabouts. This lack of support during a personal crisis led O'Neal to criticize the team publicly.

In a candid interview with Slam Magazine, he expressed his frustration, saying the team should have defended him by informing the media about his grandmother's death and respecting his need for time. O'Neal recounted the ordeal, revealing how team officials mishandled communications after his grandmother's passing.

"My grandma had just died. I saw [Orlando Magic GM] John Gabriel the next day, attended the funeral the following day, and yet I played on Sunday. They were caught up on rules about calling in, but all I needed was their support," Shaq explained.

This episode not only hurt him personally but also soured professional relations. As the 1995-1996 season closed, O'Neal became a free agent, and negotiations with the Magic stalled. Feeling undervalued and overshadowed by plans to build the team around Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Shaq departed for Los Angeles.

There, he signed a seven-year, $121 million contract with the Lakers, leading them alongside Kobe Bryant to three consecutive NBA championships. O'Neal's departure from Orlando was marked by a blend of business decisions and a personal grievance that reshaped his career and legacy, illustrating the complexities of professional sports where personal and organizational interests often collide.

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