Back in 1996, then-general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jerry West, made the biggest free agent signing in the history of the franchise. West was able to convince Shaquille O’Neal to leave the title-contending Orlando Magic for the Lakers.
The move by West changed the franchise forever. Although already having recognition as one of the best centers in the NBA, Shaq took his game to another level in Los Angeles becoming arguably the most unstoppable player in the history of the league.
Ahead of the unveiling of Shaq’s statue in front of the Staples Center on Friday, West, who will be in attendance, talked about his relationship with the fellow Hall of Famer and how close the two have become, via Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times:
“Someone who brought something other than just another great player to the table,” West said in describing O’Neal. “One of the unique people I’ve ever been around. Someone I loved like a son.”
Clearly, the bond between the two Lakers legends went far beyond basketball. West, who helped build the team that won three straight titles with Shaq at the helm, seems to appreciate O’Neal on a personal level as much as he did for his performance on the court during his playing days in Los Angeles.
West continued his praise for O’Neal while also describing their close relationship together, via Ganguli:
“I felt a kinship with him. I really truly felt a kinship with him,” West said. “There’s nothing I ever told him that wasn’t the truth. I never tried to deceive him. Would never underpay any player. Period. I have a fondness for him that goes beyond description. When I was around him, I felt better.”
West will likely have more kind words for the former Lakers center on Friday during the unveiling of Shaq’s statue. O’Neal likeness will be hanging very close to the bronze statue West was given back in 2011.
As the eighth statue outside of the Staples Center, Shaq will join fellow Lakers greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Chick Hearn, and West.