The Truth About Shaq's Relationship With Joe Exotic

If you haven't watched Netflix's latest docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, do yourself a favor and check it out. It is wild with a capital W, as it covers the bizarre and untold truth of Joe Exotic, aka Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, who owned and operated the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, all the while participating in polygamy and criminal activities. Joe is currently serving 22 years in federal prison, on two counts of murder-for-hire and 17 wildlife-related charges, The New York Times reported.

Just when you think the show can't get any more random, there's a clip of NBA superstar and sports analyst Shaquille O'Neal visiting Joe's zoo. Given Joe's sordid past and criminal status, it's curious to see Shaq seemingly associated with the odd character and to know he gave him a "plug on 'Inside the NBA,'" as TMZ noted. The outlet also claims that the basketball legend visited the zoo several times, and even appeared on Joe's reality show, JoeExoticTV, in 2014. What's more? In 2016, the athlete jokingly endorsed the controversial zookeeper for president, KX11 reported.

So are Shaq and Joe friends? The athlete took to his podcast, The Big Podcast with Shaq, on March 25, 2020, to answer this very question. 

Shaquille O'Neal claims he had "no idea" about Joe Exotic's crimes

Shaquille O'Neal was quick to defend himself against critics regarding his involvement with Joe Exotic and his zoo, stating on his podcast, "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." The NBA alum also squashed animal abuse rumors, sharing, "People that know me know that I'm righteous. I don't harm tigers. I love tigers."

As for how O'Neal met the mullet-lovin' guy in the first place, he was apparently driving along in the "Shaq bus" when he saw a sign advertising a tiger sanctuary. "It's a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe ... I dropped some donations for the tigers' food and all that, we take pictures with tigers and we went back a couple times," he said about the experience. However, the New Jersey native said he "stopping going" when he found out about the claims against Joe.

The final word on this odd connection? Shaq will continue to visit animal sanctuaries, despite his bad experience with the convict. "I love cats," he declared.

Interestingly enough, O'Neal isn't the only celeb caught up in this Tiger King mess. In fact, Doc Antle and Britney Spears are unexpectedly connected, too.