MANILA, Philippines – Shaquille O’Neal has always been a fan of big cats, but the NBA legend suddenly drew flak for his cameo in Netflix’s Tiger King, a true crime docuseries about Oklahoma zookeeper Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic.
The series revealed that O’Neal purchased two tigers from Maldonado-Passage, who is sentenced to 22 years in prison for planning a murder-for-hire plot on animal rights activist Carole Baskin and for more than a dozen wildlife violations, including killing 5 tigers.
But in the recording of the pilot episode of the podcast The Steam Room with the Inside The NBA crew, the retired NBA player clarified that he simply sponsored tigers as a “donation” to Maldonado-Passage’s Greater Wynnewood (GW) Zoo.
“I want people to understand when I say I own tigers, I always go to these zoos. And I make donations. And then they’ll say: ‘Okay, these are your tigers’, but the tigers never come into my possession,” explained O’Neal as his crewmates grilled him on the matter.
According to the four-time NBA champion, he sponsored a great white tiger named Prince and a regular Bengal tiger named Chuckie.
O’Neal further clarified that he was not friends with Joe Exotic and only met him twice. He recalled the day he visited GW Zoo for the first time to play with the tigers.
“I actually had a great day because you know, there ain’t anything to do in Oklahoma City. So I actually stayed in like you know, a couple hours and just sat with animals,” said O’Neal, who made it clear that he didn’t know about the Maldonado-Passage’s reputation in the big cat owners community in the US.
The NBA great was featured right in the first episode of Tiger King, which showed him touring GW Zoo and taking pictures with the cats.
Netflix even showed a hosting segement on TNT– where O’Neal still works as a sports analyst – where he exclaimed, “Shoutout to Joe Exotic” and announced he “got two more tigers.”
The streaming service will be premiering a follow-up episode to the docuseries titled The Tiger King and I on Sunday, April 12. – Rappler.com
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