We’ve known Shaquille O’Neal as a Hall of Fame basketball player, a rapper, a TV host, and even a genie. Now we can add “moral guardian” to that list. In an interview with Kristine Leahy on “Fair Game,” Shaq discussed how he came to protect the “purest NBA guy” he’s ever met.
Before the 2000-2001 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were the class of the league. Their two mega-stars, Shaq & Kobe Bryant, had just led them to the title the previous year. This ensured they’d be selecting the last pick in the first round of the 2000 NBA draft. With the 29th pick, they chose the “Mad Dog” – power forward Mark Madsen.
While Madsen got his nickname from his wild, physical play, his off-court moniker could be something more like “innocent puppy.” As a devout Mormon from Stanford, Madsen did not fit in with the Hollywood scene.
Shaq said that of the twelve guys on the team, eleven guys were doing “what guys with money do.” One of them didn’t. According to Deseret News, Madsen drove to his first Lakers practice in a dented Toyota Previa minivan, a gift from his mom.
Shaq immediately knew this man needed help.
“I had to protect him,” Shaq told Leahy, “but I still wanted to make him cool.”
“We have on our $1,000 suits and Mark had little khakis, little shirts. I said Mark — you’re an NBA player.”
He took Madsen shopping, bought him suits, and he even put a downpayment on a new truck.
According to Madsen:
“Shaq is one of the most generous people out there. He’s a great, generous person.”
O’Neal said that most rookies come into the league and “go crazy.” He mentioned that some guys even came into the league pure, like Madsen, then their “whole lives get turned around.” Shaq tried his best to make sure that didn’t happen. It seemed to work.
Madsen ended up playing three drama-free seasons with the Lakers before being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He played there for six more seasons before retiring. He became an assistant coach for the Lakers in 2014.
At age 39, Madsen’s mother set him up with his future wife, Hannah. The two got married, had a child, and moved to – you guessed it – Utah. Madsen is now the head coach for Utah Valley University and a leader in the local Latter Day Saints community. Thanks to Shaq, he’s probably the coolest guy at church.
This article was edited by Josiah Wilmoth.