Shaquille O'Neal addresses controversial 'Tiger King' appearance

The retired NBA player said he is "not friends" with Joe Exotic and that he had "no idea any of that stuff was going on" at Exotic's zoo.
Image: Shaquille O'Neal speaks at a Sports Illustrated event in New York City on Dec. 9, 2019.
Shaquille O'Neal speaks at a Sports Illustrated event in New York City on Dec. 9, 2019.Bennett Raglin / Getty Images for Sports Illustrated file

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By Gwen Aviles

Former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal has addressed his controversial cameo in Netflix's "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness," a true crime docuseries about Oklahoma zookeeper Joseph Maldonado-Passage, stating that he is "not friends" with Maldonado-Passage and had "no idea any of that stuff was going on."

Maldonado-Passage, who is better known as Joe Exotic, is currently serving a 22-year sentence for planning a murder-for-hire plot targeting animal rights activist Carole Baskin and for more than a dozen wildlife violations, including killing five 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," O'Neal said of Exotic on the most recent episode of his podcast "The Big Podcast With Shaq." "Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

O'Neal, who has a known affinity for tigers, appeared in the first episode of "Tiger King," where he was seen touring the zoo and taking pictures with its animals. The series also showed a clip of the basketball star referencing his visit on TNT, where his is currently a sports analyst, during which he said "Shoutout to Joe Exotic" and announced he "got two more tigers."

This segment drew criticism from viewers and appears to contradict O'Neal's proclamation that he never had business dealings with Joe Exotic. NBC News has reached out to O'Neal for further clarification regarding whether he purchased tigers at Exotic's zoo.

O'Neal added that after his first visit, he went to the zoo once more before he discovered that Joe Exotic was "involved with all the stuff," upon which he "stopped going."

"I don't harm tigers," O'Neal said. "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."

"Tiger King" is currently the #1 most-watched Netflix program in the United States, with many viewers remarking that its bizarre storyline has provided a welcome distraction during the coronavirus outbreak. The show has not only gained the attention of celebrities like Kim Kardashian-West, but the notice of a Florida sheriff, who is asking for leads in the disappearance of Baskin's previous husband, Jack Donald Lewis.