Even for the most lionhearted of opposing NBA big men, the sight of Shaquille O'Neal barreling his way to the basket was a scary one, but apparently being a teammate of Shaq's was even more frightening.
In an interview with TrueHoop's Henry Abbott, former Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry shared a tale of Shaq's passion for pranks, providing a mental image you'll wish you could scrub clean with a wire brush.
"The thing that he did that he got to be notorious for is that, every few days or every week or so, he would decided that it was time for this Brazilian naked wrestling contest. You didn't know who the chosen one was, but what would happen when you least expect it, this 7-foot, 310-pound guy would turn the corner, and he would be stark naked and he would run right at you full speed, grab you, he would take you to the floor and then he would do about five rollovers with you. And he would always tell our trainers who it was going to be, so they were always prepared for it, but you never knew who it was going to be."
As if a "stark naked" Shaq charging full speed at you isn't terrifying enough, consider O'Neal is also a trained MMA fighter in boxing, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and wrestling. Oh, and remember that the famed Suns training staff made Shaq all the more limber. No thanks. But while this might seem strange to the average Joe, few things that happen in NBA locker rooms would ever occur in your cubicle (a reality that makes Mark Jackson's alleged "not in my locker room" comment about Jason Collins all the more ridiculous).
Alvin Gentry counts himself among Shaq's victims — even joking, "I had to go to therapy quite a bit after that" — so it's safe to assume nobody on those 2008 and '09 Suns squad was off limits, including Amar'e Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Boris Diaw and Goran Dragic.
This story — as relayed by The Arizona Republic this past December — seems even more ominous.
It was April 2008. Imagine the Suns environment after a crushing Game 1 loss at San Antonio when Tim Duncan made a game-tying overtime 3-pointer to spur his team to victory.
There was an awkward discomfort about the off days in San Antonio and a sense that an ashen Mike D’Antoni was coaching the team for a final time.
Who knew just how much he was handling?
It turns out O’Neal and Gordan Giricek, who had been with the Suns for all of six weeks, mixed it up verbally during a closed practice to the point that O’Neal auditioned for his WWE future. He put Giricek in a sleeper hold, except it was no fake. Giricek passed out.
Giricek played in the remainder of the season, but it was his last NBA season.
In a not-so-veiled shot at then Heat coach Pat Riley, Shaq also said somewhat ironically of the Suns in 2008, "I love playing for this coach and I love playing with these guys. We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I'm actually on a team again."
Surely, Shaq found his naked wrestling matches funny — and Adam Sandler might've even enjoyed it — but somebody must've found this decidedly uncool, especially when it's happening "every few days" on a team that wildly underachieved and got coach Terry Porter fired midway through the season.
In his interview, Abbott asks the appropriate follow-up question of Gentry, who as an assistant for the first 51 games and head coach for the final 31 was tasked with keeping the locker room under control. Currently a Warriors assistant under then Suns GM and now Golden State coach Steve Kerr, Gentry further joked of Shaq's beyond borderline harassment, "No one prevents Shaq from doing anything."
Five years removed from Shaq's semi-regular naked wrestling bouts, Gentry can laugh about it, so there's no reason we can't, too. But let's not forget those Suns traded O'Neal to the Cavaliers following that 2008-09 season — right around the time Shaq was wrestling someone his own size on Monday Night Raw — and Gentry took Phoenix within two games of the NBA Finals the following year.
(h/t SB Nation)