Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "
Shaq Uncut: My Story," by Shaquille O'Neal with Jackie MacMullan. Copyright 2011 by Mine O'Mine Inc. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
While I was rolling out my new clothing line in China, Pat Riley was busy sending us letters about our body fat. He had come up with some new and improved threats, but I didn't even open my letter. I knew I wasn't going to make my number.
Pat was concerned winning it all would make us too comfortable. And, to be honest, he was right. It did.
We celebrated a little too long and a little too hard. There were too many parties, too many commercials, too many celebrations. We lost our edge.
I showed up to training camp without any chance of making my target of 13 percent body fat. I wasn't the only one. Antoine [Walker} and [James} Posey both missed their target number and were suspended.
The body fat crusade was on overdrive and I was tired of it. Tired of walking around drinking water twenty four hours a day. Tired of eating food for rabbits. I told the guys, "Do you honestly think Riley was doing this in LA? Do you really think he was pinching Magic Johnson's waistline every day?"
Pat was pissed that we didn't come back in top shape, so that meant he needed to crank things up.
The workouts were longer and more intense. After a hard practice we'd have to get on these exercise bikes around the court. They hooked us up to heart monitors and had these television sets with everyone's name on it so they could measure our heart rates. Each one of us had to keep it at a certain level depending on our age, weight, and height. Pat would pace back and forth checking the numbers, and if they weren't what he wanted, he'd yell, "Shaq, pick it up. Pose, pick it up." Each bike had a chip in it, and it recorded everything.
The idea was to embarrass you into keeping your heart rate at that level. It was demeaning, but we figured out a way to rig it. Me and GP [Gary Payton] realized if you kept tapping and rubbing the monitor on your arm it would speed up the heart monitor even if you weren't pedaling that hard. DWade and Posey knew about it, too. Some days, we actually were smiling while we were on those bikes. I'm sure Pat was suspicious. He was probably wondering, What the hell are they up to?
Our team got off to a terrible start. On the night we raised our championship banner, Chicago crushed us by 42 points. We lost eight of our first twelve games.
Pat wasn't handling it well. He was big on suits and ties on the road, but after we won a title we got him to relax a little bit and go with jeans and sports coats. But once those losses starting piling up, we were back to suits again.
DWade had a bad wrist, so he wasn't 100 percent. Absolutely everyone was gunning for us because we had just won the title. On top of that, I hurt my knee against Houston just six games into the season. At first we thought I had hyperextended it but it turned out to be torn cartilage. I had arthroscopic surgery and missed 35 games.
I was only back for three and a half weeks when DWade dislocated his shoulder. Even Pat was hurt. He took a short leave of absence because of hip and knee problems.
Honestly? I think he really just needed a leave of absence from us.
We were a mess.
Somehow, in spite of everything that went wrong, we still managed to win 44 games during that 2006-07 season. We won nine games in a row at one point but were swept by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. It's one thing when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen take you out in four games. It's something else when it's Luol Deng and Ben Gordon that do it to you.
Our 2007-08 season in Miami was off to an even worse start than the year before. We were playing Utah on December 22 when I slid into the scorer's table chasing after a loose ball. I hurt my hip. Actually, my whole leg hurt -- my ankle, my thigh, everything. I took a couple of days off, came back the day after Christmas, and re-aggravated it. They took some X-rays, but nothing came up.
We tried rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication, some stretching, but nothing really worked. My back was starting to get locked up, too, and the training staff didn't know what was wrong with me. I was getting really frustrated, but not nearly as frustrated as Pat. We were losing game after game and he needed me back.
Our team was really slumping. I'd get in a game or two and then be out again. Then I missed nine games and we lost all of them. Pat was angry with me, but I really don't know what he wanted me to do. I thought my career was over.
In late January Pat had me undergo an MRI, which showed I had some soft tissue damage and some inflammation but nothing "structurally compromised." They started calling it bursitis, but I could tell Pat thought I was dogging it.
The injury was getting to me. One day I was standing at my locker and I was in a lot of pain and I kind of broke down. Zo [Alonzo Mourning] tried to talk to me. He told me when he was the Heat's star and led the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocks, he was still Pat's whipping boy no matter how good his numbers were.
"Pat always gets on his stars," Zo said. "That's just his style."
Maybe Zo was all right with that style, but I wasn't. I had this injury that we couldn't figure out and Pat started telling people that Shaq's faking it, he's getting a divorce, we've got a bad record, so he doesn't feel like playing anymore. When I got to Phoenix, the general manager there, Steve Kerr, told me Riley said I was "faking" the injury. I heard it other places, too.
I'm not going to lie. It stung me. If he had just pulled me aside and said, "Hey, this isn't working anymore. It's time for you to go," we could have talked business. We could have avoided all the ugly s--- that's gone down since then.
My ticket out of town was punched in mid-February. There was a lot of tension between Pat and the players. So we're about to start practice and Jason Williams comes in about ten seconds late.
Pat being Pat, he starts swearing at him and screaming, "Get the hell out of here!"
He and JWill start yelling at each other, and JWill turns to go and kicks over the training cart. He sends pieces of Wrigley gum flying all over the place. He's walking away and I say, "JWill. Come back. Don't go anywhere."
Pat hears me so he starts going ballistic on me. Now, JWill was my guy. I kind of brought him there, so I felt responsible for him.
I tell Pat we're a team and we need to stick together, not throw guys out of the gym. Pat is screaming at me and says if I don't like it, then I should get the hell out of practice, too.
That's when I said, "Why don't you make me?"
I start taking a couple of steps towards Pat. Udonis Haslem steps in and I shove him out of the way. Then Zo tries to grab me. I threw him aside like he was a rag doll.
Now it's me and Riley face-to-face, jaw to jaw. I'm poking him in the chest and he keeps slapping my finger away and it's getting nasty. Noisy, too. He's yelling "F--- you!" and I'm yelling back, "No, f--- you!"
Zo is trying to calm us both down and he has this kind of singsong panic in his voice. He keeps saying, "Big fella, no big fella, big fella!" I finally turn around and tell him, "Don't worry. I'm not going to hit the man. Do you think I'm crazy?"
At that point Pat decides that practice is over. He walks out and goes to his downstairs office, and everyone just kind of stands there. Nobody is sure what to do. I think they were pretty shocked because it was the first time they ever saw anyone stand up to Pat like that.
Everybody was kind of backing away from me because I had that murderous "Shaq is about to go off" look on my face. They knew better than to mess with me at that point.
Obviously that was the end of me in Miami. Pat knew and I knew it. I called my uncle Mike and my agent, Perry Rogers, and told them, "Let's ask for a trade before he can control the story." I knew because Pat was such a control freak he'd want to spin it his way.
Soon after my little incident with Pat, he called Perry and told him, "It's over. We're trading Shaq." Perry said: "Let me fly out there and talk this over with you." Pat said, "No, we're done."
He told Perry they had a deal to trade me to Phoenix. Perry called me and said, "What do you think?" I said immediately, "Let's go."
When he traded me, Pat denied we were having any problems. He told the media, "I loved Shaq when I got him and I love him today."
He didn't mean it. He hated the way I called him out. He didn't like to be challenged. I'm sure he thought I was trying to destroy the culture he created. He was probably right. I thought his "culture" needed some tweaking.
The sad part is, a little communication could have fixed all of it. As long as I know what's going on, it's cool. Be straight with me and we'll be fine. Don't tell me, "We love you, we love you, you put our franchise on the map," then turn around and trade me a few days later. Just be honest with me. Talk to me like a man.
I can still hear Pat telling me, "I'm going to take down that 6th Man Michael Jordan jersey we have up in our rafters and put your number 32 uniform in its place. You have done so much for this franchise. Your jersey will be the first one up there, the first one ever retired by the Heat."
And then, just like that, I'm gone.