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OREM — Mark Madsen settled into his new role as head coach of the Utah Valley men's basketball program with his first NCAA-sanctioned practice Tuesday at the NUVI basketball center.
As he ran through a transfer-heavy roster to try to find his starting five, his bulldog point guard, and his rim-protecting big men, he might’ve had thoughts on some previous big men with whom he played during his decade-long NBA career.
None were bigger — literally — than Shaquille O'Neal.
And the Great Aristotle wasn’t just protecting Madsen in the paint, either.
"Mad Dog was the purest NBA guy I’ve ever met. I had to protect that," O'Neal told Kristine Leahy recently on Fair Game on FS1. "I don’t know much about Mormons or their religion. But most rookies when they come in, they go crazy — with everything."
💰💰 @SHAQ shares with @KristineLeahy why he took former teammate @madsen_mark on a shopping spree that included a new car and wardrobe:— Fair Game (@FairGameonFS1) September 23, 2019
"He's the purest guy I've ever met in the NBA. It was my duty to protect him." pic.twitter.com/gRR1848rBf
A former third-team All-American at Stanford, Madsen won two NBA titles with O'Neal and the Lakers in 2001 and 2002. But the 6-foot-9, 245-pound member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left a bigger impression than basketball on Shaq, who recalled buying Madsen his first $1,000 suit and offering a down payment on a brand-new truck when he got to Los Angeles.
When the other guys on the team approached Madsen, who served a two-year church mission in Spain, about imbibing in the NBA way, O'Neal was the first to step up.
"There are 12 guys on the team, including Mark. Eleven guys are doing what guys with money do, and Mark was not. When you’ve got 11 guys wanting to be collective, I was going to them and said, 'Mark ain't doing that. Stay away from him. Don't do that.'
"He told me, 'Shaq, I don't do that. I’m waiting until I get married.' It was awesome to hear, because I had never heard that before."
Madsen, for his part, has always been gracious towards his NBA teammates — but he's often reflected extremely positively on the time he spent with O'Neal, both on the court and off it.
"Shaq is one of the most generous people out there," Madsen told the Deseret News a few years ago. "He's a great, generous person."
Watch the full episode of "Fair Game" in the video above.