Shaq says he ‘had no idea’ what went on behind scenes at Joe Exotic’s zoo

Shaq says he ‘had no idea’ what went on behind scenes at Joe Exotic’s zoo
Shaquille O'Neal arrives at the Grand Opening of Shaquille's at LA Live on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP) (Source: Willy Sanjuan)

(WAFB) - The Netflix documentary “Tiger King” is taking the internet, and the country, by storm.

This wildly addictive seven-part documentary is the latest binge-worthy series on the popular streaming service, quickly becoming one of the most-watched shows on the platform. Many believe the show’s popularity may have been significantly aided by the global COVID-19 pandemic and federal guidelines ordering millions of Americans to stay home.

Shaquille O’Neal appeared in the opening episode of the series touring the Oklahoma ranch owned by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, the now-imprisoned and now-infamous “Joe Exotic.” O’Neal is seen referencing the visit the next night on TNT’s NBA broadcast, saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe" and “I got two more tigers.”

Joe Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison in January after he was found guilty on multiple charges, including a murder-for-hire plot and the illegal sale of tiger cubs.

On a recent episode of his “Big Podcast With Shaq," the NBA Hall of Fame center attempted to clarify his visit to the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.

"So we go in there, and it's a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe," O'Neal 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."

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2013, file photo, Joseph Maldonado answers a question during an interview at the zoo he runs in Wynnewood, Okla. Federal prosecutors on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, announced that the zookeeper, also known as "Joe Exotic," and candidate for governor earlier this year, has been charged in a murder-for-hire scheme alleging he tried to hire someone to kill a Florida woman. Prosecutors allege Maldonado-Passage tried to hire two separate people to kill the woman, who wasn't harmed. Maldonado-Passage finished third in a three-way Libertarian primary in June. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2013, file photo, Joseph Maldonado answers a question during an interview at the zoo he runs in Wynnewood, Okla. Federal prosecutors on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, announced that the zookeeper, also known as "Joe Exotic," and candidate for governor earlier this year, has been charged in a murder-for-hire scheme alleging he tried to hire someone to kill a Florida woman. Prosecutors allege Maldonado-Passage tried to hire two separate people to kill the woman, who wasn't harmed. Maldonado-Passage finished third in a three-way Libertarian primary in June. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) (Source: Sue Ogrocki)

O'Neal noted that though he does donate to help tigers, he never bought any of the animals from Joe Exotic, nor is he friends with him.

“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.”

The series focuses on big cat conservationists and collectors in America. The emphasis of the show revolves around a contentious, years-long feud between the flamboyant Maldonado-Passage and Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue. Baskin alleges Maldonado’s breeding programs, animals conditions, and his practice of charging visitors to pet and take photos with lion and tiger cubs are abusive to the animals.

Maldonado claims conditions at Baskin’s Florida rescue are sub-par, and that she is waging a hypocritical harassment campaign by creating websites naming him an animal abuser, and damaging his sources of income.

Joe Exotic was arrested and convicted for attempting to hire someone to murder Baskin after losing a million-dollar trademark infringement case.

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Santa Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage. Maldonado-Passage, a former Oklahoma zookeeper sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot has filed a federal lawsuit seeking nearly $94 million in damages. Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic," filed the lawsuit March 17, 2020 in federal court in Oklahoma City. (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Santa Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage. Maldonado-Passage, a former Oklahoma zookeeper sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot has filed a federal lawsuit seeking nearly $94 million in damages. Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic," filed the lawsuit March 17, 2020 in federal court in Oklahoma City. (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File) (Source: AP)

The documentary has spurred Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister to get new leads in the case of Baskin’s missing ex-husband, Jack “Don” Lewis.

Lewis’ disappearance is a key part of the documentary, as there is speculation over whether he died in a plane crash or if foul play was involved. Joe Exotic routinely accused Baskin of killing her husband and feeding him to her tigers. Baskin denied any involvement.

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