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On this date: Shaquille O’Neal signs with the Lakers

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After Magic Johnson announced in 1991 that he was retiring due to testing positive for HIV, the Los Angeles Lakers went into a tailspin.

The franchise had boasted perhaps the greatest team in NBA history during the peak of the Showtime era in the mid-1980s, but in the 1990s, it looked like it had lost its luster and good karma.

General manager Jerry West, who was just as competitive as an executive as he was during his Hall of Fame playing career, was determined to get back to the championship level.

He knew his team needed a major superstar, and in the summer of 1996, the biggest one, literally and figuratively, was available: Shaquille O’Neal.

West had to clear lots of cap space even to be able to make an offer to the dominant center. It involved trading the Lakers’ starting center, Vlade Divac, to the Charlotte Hornets for a 17-year-old named Kobe Bryant, a move that was viewed as nothing more than a gamble at the time.

Afterward, the Lakers and Orlando Magic went back and forth in a real-life game of poker, making bigger and bigger offers to O’Neal.

In the end, he felt the Lakers were more appreciative of him. Therefore, he signed a new contract to join the Purple and Gold.

In doing so, O’Neal became the latest of a line of legendary Lakers centers that included George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The big fella would team up with Bryant to lead the team to three straight NBA championships in the early 2000s after it went through some growing pains in the late 1990s.

To this day, although O’Neal played with several other teams after leaving L.A., he is most associated with the squad that is the gold standard of basketball.

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