Few athletes are able to instill a sense of dread in those who must compete against them, and one such person is absolutely Michael Jordan. The basketball icon was feared by many during his NBA days – and for good reason. He was an absolute wizard on the court, even managing to best legends like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson during his time. It takes a lot of guts to admit when a fellow athlete is so good that they make you somewhat uneasy. And that’s what Shaquille O’Neal did, as the celebrated big man said that he was indeed “terrified” of Jordan. That may sound extreme on the surface, but I honestly don’t blame O’Neal for feeling that way.
Shaq opened up about his days playing against the man known as Air Jordan during an episode of The Big Podcast, a portion of which was shared on Instagram. He straight-up told Lou Williams (a fellow NBA vet) and comedian Bill Bellamy that Jordan would rattle him a bit. What’s interesting about that, though, is that The Diesel can’t even really say why he found himself unnerved by the six-time NBA champion. Nevertheless, he did provide some guesses as to why that might have been the case:
I was terrified of Michael Jordan. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I saw him on the posters or whatever. But like, when we went to Chicago, the old Chicago arena – remember we had to walk up those steps? I don’t know if you remember that. And they said his name, and like he did those first couple of moves. I’m like, ‘Man, this motherfucker’s perfect.’
By the time Shaquille O’Neal was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992, His Airness was more than a household name. The accolades he’d amassed at that point were two NBA championships, eight all-star nods and three MVP awards among other honors. So it’s easy for this basketball fan to understand why O’Neal felt somewhat anxious about playing against the man he’d seen on those posters. Just watching the Chicago Bulls legend is wild enough, but I can’t even fathom the idea of having to play against him.
More on Michael Jordan
The Miami Heat veteran isn’t the only former player who’s spoken about Michael Jordan’s talent. Magic Johnson – who’s also a good friend of the Bulls legend – referred to Jordan as the “strongest” athlete he’s ever seen. The Los Angeles Lakers great cited his buddy’s ability to produce dominant performances in games while also maintaining a very rigorous personal schedule when he was off the court. And, while Charles Barkley may never repair his friendship with Jordan, he can still give credit where it’s due. He once summed up his former colleague’s prowess when sharing an anecdote about playing him in the NBA Finals. When he appeared on Bill Simmons’ podcast in 2011 (via SB Nation), he recalled the moment he had to admit to his young daughter that MJ was a better player than he was.
Much of Michael Jordan’s mentality was captured in the Emmy-winning ESPN docuseries The Last Dance (which can be streamed with a Netflix subscription). What really struck me was his approach to the game and how he tended not to fret when game time arrived. He also didn’t care what others thought about him. Check out this clip from the doc:
Of course, even he was unfathomable, and many NBA greats bested him from time to time. Also, when it comes to Shaquille O’Neal, he deserves some serious credit himself, as he was one of the most intimidating players ever to step on a court. Nevertheless, it’s still intriguing to hear that even he would sometimes get overwhelmed when going toe to toe with a specific player.
Those who’d like to learn more about the Lakers icon can do just that by streaming his docuseries, Shaq, using a Max subscription.