Shaquille O'Neal in the past has made clear he really loves tigers. So it should almost come as no surprise that he made a cameo on Netflix's newest hit series "Tiger King."
The former NBA star bought two rare white tiger cubs in 2005, and the cats (now grown) live on a farm in Florida, where a man known as "Tiger Dave" looks after them.
Shaq also apparently sponsors two cubs and owns a "liger," a mixed breed between a lion and a tiger.
Shaq even used to spout off facts about tigers during interviews. In a 2001 feature, he told the the Los Angeles Times, "Tigers are not in Africa. Tigers are in Siberia and India.”
Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, otherwise known as "Joe Exotic," was the proprietor of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, which housed several species of tigers, lions and other exotic creatures. Maldonado claimed to be the most prolific breeder of tigers in the United States. In 2019, he was convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts of murder for hire. He is currently serving 22 years in federal prison.
In a 2016 interview with KXII News in Oklahoma, Exotic said O'Neal would visit the zoo for a few hours every time the former basketball player was in the Oklahoma area. He claimed to have met O'Neal eight years prior.
O'Neal also appeared in a May 2014 episode of the Joe Exotic TV online show, a reality show Maldonado put on featuring the wildlife in his park. One scene features Shaq holding a tiger and saying, "This is Shaq, here with my main man Joe, and Joe just gave me this tiger for a present."
Shaq has sponsored five tigers in Maldonado's park, paying for their veterinary bills and food, according to Maldonado. "People like Shaq and movie stars helping out, that's the only way (tigers) will stay on this planet," he said.
On an episode of Shaq's "The Big Podcast With Shaq" last week, the NBA legend took a minute to clarify his relationship with Joe Exotic and the park.
"So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We're there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that,” O’Neal said. “We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times.
"Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.
"I don’t harm tigers. I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”
Looks like Shaq's new nickname might have to be "The Big Cat Daddy."