SAN ANTONIO — Shaq has come clean.
After all these years, former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal has apologized to Spurs legend David Robinson for starting a rumor that Robinson refused to sign an autograph for him when he was younger.
O’Neal, a 1989 Cole High School graduate, admitted Sunday in a Zoom call with Robinson and a host of other NBA stars from the 1990s, that he concocted the story for motivation when he faced The Admiral.
“David, I want to say I apologize for making up that rumor,” O’Neal said, as Robinson and almost everybody else on the call burst into laughter.
When someone asked what the rumor was, Robinson stepped in and said, “People in San Antonio were mad at me because I didn’t sign an autograph for him when he was a kid or something. I don’t know.”
Looking incredulous, Robinson chuckled as he recalled the rumor.
“David took all my shine when he came to San Antonio, so I hated him for that,” O’Neal said. “And then first couple of years (of Shaq’s career), he used to kill me, so I had to make up my rumor to get mad.
“He used to sprint up and down the court. I used to be like, ‘God bless, slow down.’ So, I made up a scenario. ‘Oh, yeah, when I was 13 you didn’t sign my autograph. I’m mad now.'"
Robinson brought more laughter when he recalled asking O’Neal about the story.
“We were on the Olympic team,” Robinson said, referring to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. “We were sitting on the plane together and I said, ‘Shaq, man, what is this stuff about me not signing an autograph? He was like ‘Man, I’m sorry about that. I made that up.’”
More laughter from the players on the Zoom call followed. It was obvious that both O’Neal and Robinson enjoyed joking about the rumor that became part of NBA lore.
Ahmad Rashad, former host of the NBA Inside Stuff television program, brought 21 players together for an NBA Inside Stuff reunion show via Zoom on the league’s Twitter page. The show preceded the last installments of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The other 19 former NBA players on the call were Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Dell Curry, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Tim Hardaway, Ron Harper, Grant Hill, Robert Horry, Shawn Kemp, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Dikembe Mutombo, Gary Payton, Glen Rice, Mitch Richmond, Detlef Schrempf, John Stockton and Dominique Wilkins.
A 7-foot-1 center, Robinson was selected by the Spurs with the No. 1 overall pick of the 1987 NBA Draft after a stellar career at Navy. He started his pro career in 1989 after fulfilling his service commitment and played 14 seasons before retiring after the 2002-03 season.
Voted NBA MVP in 1995, Robinson won two league championships with the Silver and Black. He was a 10-time All-NBA selection and 10-time All-Star, and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1992.
Nicknamed “The Admiral,” Robinson made the All-NBA Team eight times – four each on the first and second units. He was named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Robinson turns 55 on Aug. 6 and O’Neal celebrated his 48th birthday on March 6. O’Neal led Cole to the Class 3A state championship team as a senior in 1989.
O’Neal didn’t transfer to Cole until the spring of his sophomore year when his stepfather, Philip Harrison, a career Army sergeant, was transferred to Fort Sam Houston. The math and facts never added up on O’Neal’s claim that Robinson denied him an autograph when he was 13. Even if O’Neal visited San Antonio when he was 13, Robinson was still at the Naval Academy then.
A 7-foot-1, 325-pound center, O’Neal played three seasons at LSU before being selected by the Orlando Magic with the No. 1 overall pick of the 1992 NBA Draft. He played with six teams during his 20-year NBA career and won four league championships, three straight with the Los Angeles Lakers and one with the Miami Heat.
O’Neal was named NBA MVP in 2000a and a Finals MVP three times. He was a 14-time All-NBA pick and 15-time All-Star. Like Robinson, O’Neal made the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Robinson and O’Neal faced off in 40 games during their careers – 23 in the regular season and 17 in the playoffs. Robinson edged O’Neal 12-11 in the regular season, but O’Neal was 9-8 against The Admiral in four postseason series. O’Neal played with the Lakers in all four series.
O’Neal dominated Robinson statistically in the playoffs, 24.7-9.6 in scoring and 13.4-7-3 in rebounding, O’Neal also averaged more assists (2.6-1.1) and blocks (2.2-1.3).
O’Neal made headlines last week when he said the Spurs’ first championship in 1999 shouldn’t count because it followed a regular season shortened to 50 games because of a lockout.
“I would tell Mr. Duncan this to his face, ‘You have four rings,’” O’Neal said, referring, of course, to Tim Duncan. “’Yeah, it says you have five, but the asterisk doesn't count."
“’Anything I do, I never want an asterisk about it. You can have a look on your face if you want. It’s not a real season. I'll tell him (Duncan) to his face. I'll tell all of San Antonio to their face, ‘You only got four.'"
The 1999 championship was the first of five for the Silver and Black, who added titles in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.