'I had no idea': Shaquille O'Neal defends himself after Tiger King backlash

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·Sports Reporter
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Shaquille O'Neal is pictured in a 50/50 image next to star of Netflix documentary 'Tiger King', Joe Exotic - aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage.
NBA great Shaquille O'Neal has distanced himself from the unlikely star of Netflix documentary 'Tiger King', Joe Exotic - aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage. Pictures: Netflix

The Tiger King, AKA Joe Exotic, has emerged as an unlikely man for the times with much of the world self-isolating behind closed doors.

The smash hit Netflix series about the Oklahoma zookeeper who was eventually sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot unexpectedly featured NBA great Shaquille O’Neal in it’s first episode - leaving the four-time champion to explain his relationship with the eccentric character.

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Speaking on his podcast, The Big Podcast With Shaq, O’Neal distanced himself from the infamous Exotic - real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage - saying he’d visited the zoo many times, but had no idea about what was going on behind the scenes.

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe,” Shaq said.

“We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that.

“We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times.

“Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Shaquille O’Neal denies purchasing tigers from Joe Exotic

In his brief appearance in the documentary series, a clip of O’Neal is played in which he says ‘“Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.’ in a television segment for broadcaster TNT.

O’Neal denied that he had purchased any tigers, saying he had only donated money to the zoo for feeding and maintenance costs.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said.

“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.”

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