Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal has spoken explicitly about the importance of players and athletes getting the COVID-19 vaccination over the last five months. However, on Thursday, the four-time NBA champion expressed a change of heart toward vaccine mandates.
While he is not against the vaccine, O’Neal spoke with Entertainment Tonight’s Nischelle Turner on The Big Podcast with Shaq stating that people should not have to choose between keeping their job and getting vaccinated.
“Look, I encourage everybody to be safe and take care of your family, I do,” O’Neal said. “But there’s still some people that don’t wanna take it. And you shouldn’t have to be forced to take something you don’t want.”
Turner stated that her employer, CBS, has a vaccine mandate among workers. O’Neal added: “That's forced.”
In disagreeing with Turner, O’Neal doubled down on his stance.
“It is forced. Because if the man don't take it, the man gonna get fired,” he said.
O’Neal's new attitude on vaccine mandates comes after previously slamming Nets guard Kyrie Irving on two different occasions for not getting vaccinated. In September, O'Neal said on his podcast that if he was a teammate with Irving, he would have told him to “get his a-- up out of here.”
“In this game of ours, sometimes you have to think about other people rather than yourself. Now, Kyrie has his views. He has his opinions. I’m not going to knock that, but he does have an obligation, because he took that 200 million.
“... But if you're on my team and you can't play home games, I don't want you around. Like, we have a chance to win and if you ain't on the program, go somewhere else, period.”
Then, in January, O’Neal doubled down on his September stance, saying he would have to use some force when dealing with Irving and his unvaccinated circumstance.
“I don’t see how the team could put up with that, I’m just saying, O’Neal said on his podcast. “If he was on my team I’d have to put hands on him.
“I know for a fact that these windows of winning championships, you don’t have them a lot,” he continued. “All that stuff just playing on the road, you can’t get in no rhythm like that.”
Irving, who cannot play in Net home games due to New York city’s mandate requiring all athletes to be vaccinated, has played in 10 games this season. In those contests, he is averaging 23.6 points and 4.7 assists.
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