Shaquille O’Neal Reveals the First Thing He Told Angel Reese After the WNBA Draft (Exclusive)

“I am described as Angel’s understandable ear,” Shaquille O’Neal tells PEOPLE exclusively of the LSU star who was selected by the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Draft.

Angel Reese and Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O’Neal is Angel Reese’s teammate off the court.

The retired NBA star opened up to PEOPLE about his close bond with the former LSU player — and revealed the first thing he told her after she was selected by the Chicago Sky as the seventh pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft on Monday night.

“I am described as Angel’s understandable ear,” O’Neal tells PEOPLE exclusively of Reese. “I know things that she went through, I know what she’s going through, I know what’s about to happen to her and I could give her advice.”

The basketball legend, who was the number one pick in the 1992 NBA Draft before going on to play for six NBA teams over his 19-year career, says the rookie can find comfort in his advice due to his experience in the league.

O’Neal says when they “speak about greatness,” he’s “seen it” and “heard it.” Therefore, he says, “you can take my word for it.” In the last year, he has become a mentor to Reese, who rose to fame during LSU’s championship run in the 2023 March Madness tournament.

Angel Reese poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected seventh overall pick by the Chicago Sky during the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City.

And that special bond is not only because O’Neal is a former LSU Tiger himself, before he was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992, he says. “She’s the same age as my children, so I only want the best for her,” the retired NBA star and father of six tells PEOPLE.

“And when you have daughters, you know how to use that calm voice,” he adds. So after Reese was selected in the WNBA Draft, O’Neal says, “the first thing I told her is I was proud of her.”

As a self-described “leader,” O’Neal says he tries to never “micromanage people.” He says he’s careful with his word choices and avoids demands — rather, he says, “I’m happy for you. I’m proud of you. If you need anything, you call me.”

Shaquille O'Neal, Angel Reese

O’Neal also pointed out that Reese’s “game is similar” to his “based on the fact that we do it our way” and “we’re unapologetic about it.” He continues, “She plays with a certain passion — and a lot of times, you can’t really understand that until you understand where a person comes from.”

Reese is from Baltimore, Maryland — “one of the toughest places in the world,” notes O’Neal. “She had to be tough. She is tough and she applies that on the court. Some people don’t like that and it’s understandable, but she’s not apologetic about it.”

O’Neal emphasizes: “I don’t want her to apologize. I want her to stay beautiful, stay classy and continue making a name for herself and taking care of her family.”

Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Lady Tigers looks on during the third quarter against the Miami Hurricanes in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 26, 2023 in Greenville, South Carolina.

On March 4, O’Neal and Reese shared a special moment together when the NBA icon escorted the NCAA player and her mother (also named Angel) from the locker room onto the court at his alma mater LSU, for Reese’s senior day celebration.

After the game, Reese told ESPN it’s “been great” to have O’Neal’s support. “He’s really smart, not just on the basketball court, but just in life.”

She continued, “He has his doctorate, so he’s educated, being a lot of things outside of basketball. Being able to have somebody like that has been a great inspiration for me. And of course, enjoying the moment like this with him and the rest of my family was fun tonight,” per ESPN.

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