Shaquille O'Neal celebrates his 39th birthday today as the Boston Celtics currently sit at the top of the Eastern Conference. While Shaq is currently sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury, he is in a good position this season to compete for his fifth NBA Championship ring.
Fourteen years ago though, O'Neal could have found himself in a life-altering situation as he planned to attend a party with his friend, the Notorious B.I.G. Shaq recently talked with ESPN's "Outside The Lines" reflecting on how he met Biggie and pondering how things could have been different.
Shaquille O'Neal first became a fan of Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace) when he heard his name used in one of Biggie's songs.
"First time I heard Biggie Smalls was he said my name in a rap," Shaq told ESPN. "Said 'I'm slamming brothers like Shaquille, s--t is real'…And instantly I became a fan."
Shaq, playing for the Lakers at the time and also attempting his own music career, put out a call hoping to meet Biggie in person.
"My concept was always to rap with my favorite rappers," Shaq recalled, "So I put out a call to him and asked if he would do a song with me."
The Notorious B.I.G. would appear on Shaq's 1996 album, "You Can't Stop the Reign."
The next time Shaq planned to see his friend was the fateful night that the MC was shot and killed in Los Angeles.
Shaq, playing in his first season for the Lakers at the time, had planned to attend a Soul Train Awards after party with Biggie. "I was in my condo. I had on a cold white suit, white hat and all that. I was on my way. I was dressed. Ready to go," O'Neal said.
"I just fell asleep. I woke up about 4 o'clock from a call from my mother," Shaq said. "She said 'Did you go to the party?' I'm like, 'No, what're you talking about?' She said, 'You know, your friend was shot.' And I was like, 'What?' So then I hung up with her and called some people and they told me what had happened."
Shaq recalls his friend's death and wonders if he had been there that night if he could somehow have changed the evening's outcome. Perhaps his presence in the car would have prevented the gunman from shooting at the vehicle (assuming, of course, the gunman was a Lakers fan and not a Clippers fan).
The more likely event is not that Shaq would have been able to prevent the incident from happening. The likely event is that the gunman still would have opened fire and the sports world would have been robbed of watching one of the NBA's biggest stars perform through the prime of his career.
Fourteen years have passed since the death of his friend. In that time, Shaq has gone on to win four NBA championships, three NBA Finals MVP awards, play in 10 NBA All-Star Games, be the All-Star Game MVP three times and lead the NBA in scoring once.
Without Shaq in the league, do the Lakers still three-peat in 2000, 2001 and 2002? If not, Kobe is not contending with Michael Jordan in ring count, removing another popular debate.
The tragic loss of a talented artist was hard enough for fans to endure; losing a superstar athlete in the same event would have changed the history of the NBA.
I do not know if Shaq could have changed the outcome of that night or not, but as a sports fan and one who finds Shaquille O'Neal entertaining, I am glad that he fell asleep that night and missed that party.
"I just was thinking that I'm fortunate enough to say that I knew him. Fortunate enough to say that he blessed me with 32 bars on my album. I'm blessed enough to say that he knew me and I knew him. So I really don't think about the bad times just think about the good times. Even when I hear his verses on different beats it still sounds like he's still here."