Shaw, a former Miami Heat player, signed a one-year contract with the Magic for $690,000, little more than tax and license on the Lamborghini Diablo. But, as he gleefully points out, when he arrived at Orlando International Airport for the negotiations, there was a chauffeur awaiting him with one of those Dr. Galazkiewicz signs.
Shaw told one writer he was expecting "an intern in a Toyota Corolla," but he was taken, instead, via limousine to his hotel near Disney World. Almost immediately he was introduced to 85 Magic employees. "It seemed like a family to me," he says, words that are especially poignant for the 28-year-old Shaw, who, unimaginably, lost his parents and sister in a car crash two summers ago.
The Bulls insist they offered All-Star Grant $20 million over five years to remain in Chicago, where he averaged 15.1 points and 11.0 rebounds last season and appeared in 111 playoff games in seven years. But Grant accepted $3 million less to sign with Orlando, where he will free O'Neal from constant double-teaming. Manning's one-year deal with Phoenix is for a nominal $1 million. Tisdale also signed for one year, at $850,000. By the current standards of professional sports, each of these contracts is like Lee Iacocca's old dollar-a-year deal with Chrysler.
Yes, Hardaway held out for the first nine days of camp, demanding a new contract roughly equal to the GNP of Brazil, but his attitude is an anomaly. When the Magic tips off against the Suns in Orlando—on an October night that owners and players in both baseball and hockey are spending at home, tossing another wad of $50 bills on the fire for warmth—these teams appear to consist of men with but one novel desire: to win.
Which is what the Suns do, with alarming efficiency. Phoenix Turtle-Waxes the Magic 122-113, six Suns scoring in double figures. O'Neal, however, goes for 40 points and 11 rebounds against the Centroplex. Now Shaq sits at his locker, a blister the size of a chicken pot pie rising on his right big toe. (Hideous, it will require him to sit out the next game.) His glum mug does not square with the festive red paint on his toenails or the tattoo on his right biceps. It is a globe palmed by a massive hand, encircled by four words: THE WORLD IS MINE.
Last year, in his second season, O'Neal was the subject of ugly and ridiculous Shaq-lash. It was fashionable in NBA salons to say that he was vastly overrated, that he was endorsement-addled, that he was a ball hog who couldn't even make a free throw, for the love of god.
"In this era of the high-priced athlete," says Gabriel, the Magic player-personnel director, "people are quick to find the blemish in someone's game. It was like, So he'll lead the league in scoring and rebounding, he'll be the most marketable guy in sports, but he'll never shoot over 65 percent from the line, so why doesn't somebody put him out of his misery?"
All O'Neal did last season was play 40 minutes a game and average 29.3 points, 13.2 rebounds and nearly three blocks. This summer he was voted MVP of the world championships. And, on this very day, he was named—in a nationwide ad-agency poll of 11- to 17-year-olds—the Coolest Person Alive. (Barkley was fourth.) And yet as Shaq slouches at his locker, exhausted, his nickname Magic-Markered to the waistband of his underpants, what he really looks like is a 303-pound six-year-old.
O'Neal is now asked if the average fan really understands the atrocities an NBA center must endure each and every game. "I don't think he really cares what we go through," says Shaq with a refreshing self-awareness, "because he's making $4 an hour, and we're making $20,000 every 10 days." It sounded like he said "$20,000." It 'might have been "$200,000." Shaq speaks so softly, and makes such vast sums, that it's difficult to tell.
But this much is certain: When Shaq cashes his paycheck, the bank needs a leaf-blower to deliver the money. O'Neal knows there is only one reason why the Magic pay him in the first place. Ask Shaq if the NBA Finals are an unreasonable goal for Orlando this season, and he doesn't hesitate. "Look at the talent on this team," he says, rising to his full 7'1" before heading for the shower. "We shouldn't be thinking of anything less."