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Shaq defends self in ‘Tiger King’ backlash, saying Joe Exotic is ‘not my friend’

Shaquille O'Neal spent part of his latest podcast episode addressing controversy surrounding his appearance in Netflix's "Tiger King."
(Diane Bondareff / Associated Press)

Shaquille O’Neal is clawing his way out of controversy surrounding his surprise appearance in the hit Netflix docuseries “Tiger King.”

On the latest episode of “The Big Podcast With Shaq,” the NBA superstar addressed the backlash he has received for once supporting Joe “Tiger King” Exotic, who is currently serving time in an Oklahoma prison for animal abuse and a murder-for-hire scheme.

At one point in the series, O’Neal makes a brief cameo, stopping by Exotic’s G.W. Zoo, posing for photos with the wildlife and even giving the infamous tiger tamer a shout-out on “Inside the NBA.”

“I love tigers,” O’Neal said at the top of Wednesday’s episode. “I was just a visitor. I met [Exotic] — not my friend. I don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Much as he hired a hitman, the star of Netflix’s true-crime sensation hired a songwriter, vocalist for unforgettable tracks like ‘Here Kitty Kitty.’

The former Lakers player explained that he returned to the zoo “a couple times” after being lured in by a “tiger sanctuary” sign while on the road for a game between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder years ago.

Though he initially made some donations “for the tiger food,” O’Neal eventually cut off all ties with Exotic and his “sanctuary” after learning more about what went on behind the scenes at G.W.

“We find out that he’s involved with all this stuff, and actually I stopped going,” O’Neal said. “I’m righteous. I don’t harm tigers. ... Do I put donations to zoos to help these tigers out? I do ... Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers.”

“If I don’t get cast as Joe Exotic in the eventual biopic, Hollywood is broken,” Dax Shepard tweeted about Netflix’s latest, wildest hit, “Tiger King.”

The basketball icon and analyst later revealed that he — like many others — has already “binge-watched” all of “Tiger King,” adding, “It’s actually a really good documentary.”

O’Neal said that the fallout from his past with Exotic hasn’t changed his love for wild animals.

“I will continue to go to people’s sanctuaries and farms and look at cats,” he said. “That’s not going to stop me.”


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