The NBA legend brought it up on the most recent episode of his “The Big Podcast With Shaq,” explaining his association with the bizarre story and Joseph “Joe Exotic” Schreibvogel Maldonado-Passage, aka the Tiger King.
O’Neal has always been outspoken about his love of big cats and has posted multiple images of his tigers on social media. In one clip included on “Tiger King,” he said he’d recently visited Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma and gained two new tigers.
In case you’ve somehow missed the absolute madness that is “Tiger King,” the story follows the life of the gay polygamous zookeeper who draws outrage from wildlife advocacy groups for his breeding and treatment of big cats ― and then gets wrapped up in a murder-for-hire plot against his nemesis, animal rights activist Carole Baskin. He is currently serving a 22-year sentence for that plot, and several wildlife violations.
Along with criticisms directed at O’Neal for keeping big cats as pets, social media users pointed out that Maldonado-Passage is not exactly the best person to be associated with.
Following these criticisms, O’Neal opened up about his relationship with the park and its owner, claiming he and his entourage were simply visitors.
“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.
He and his companions took some pictures with the tigers, O’Neal said, and went back on a handful of occasions, but stopped visiting once they were made aware of what the zookeeper was involved with.
He added: “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.”
A representative for O’Neal did not immediately respond to a request for comment to clarify whether he purchased tigers from the zoo.
O’Neal, like just about everyone else on social media, admitted that he, too, had “binge-watched” the entire series.
“It’s actually a really good documentary,” he said.
He said the wasn’t worried about fallout from the controversy, saying he would continue his love of tigers and would continue to donate to zoos.