On Fox Sports' Fair Game with Kristine Leahy, Shaquille O'Neal praised Latter-day Saint NBA player Mark "Mad Dog" Madsen as "the purest NBA guy I've ever met." He continues, "I don’t know much about Mormons or their religion, but . . . most rookies, when they come in, they go crazy, including me. . . . Mark was none of that."
As teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaq and Mad Dog developed a lasting friendship. When asked why Shaq gifted thousands of dollars to help Madsen buy new clothes, Shaq responded, "Mad Dog was the purest NBA guy I’ve ever met. He really was, and I had to protect that."
💰💰 @SHAQ shares with @KristineLeahy why he took former teammate @madsen_mark on a shopping spree that included a new car and wardrobe: "He's the purest guy I've ever met in the NBA. It was my duty to protect him." pic.twitter.com/gRR1848rBf — Fair Game (@FairGameonFS1) September 23, 2019
When referencing the extravagant and "crazy" lifestyle that many players in the NBA assumed, Shaq recalls a conversation he had with Madsen: "He told me, 'Shaq, I don’t do that.' It was awesome to hear because I had never heard that before."
Shaq encouraged his teammates to respect Madsen's beliefs and felt a responsibility to protect Mad Dog's integrity while also helping him become a part of the team.
"It was my job to protect him. But I still wanted to make him cool—one of the guys, right?" Shaq recalls. "We have on our thousand-dollar suits and Mark, little khakis, little shirt. And I said, 'Mark you gotta . . . you’re an NBA player.' 'No Shaq, I want to save.'"
When Madsen started playing with the Lakers, he drove a 10-year-old white minivan his parents had gifted him as a graduation gift. When Shaq discovered the dented car amidst the other luxury sports cars his fellow teammates drove to practice, he asked in the locker room, “Who in the world is driving that white van?!” When Madsen admitted it was his, Shaq replied, “You can’t roll into practice in that car.” The two went to a car dealership and then clothes shopping to help improve Madsen's look while staying within his budget.
"He was the purest guy I’ve ever met in the NBA. This kid makes no mistakes. I love him," Shaq says of Madsen.
"Shaq is one of the most generous people out there," Madsen said in an interview with the Deseret News. "He's a great, generous person."
While Madsen's faith made an impression on his teammates, it also helped him reach the NBA. When Madsen was 13-years-old, he tore the cartilage in his knee sliding down a slick road. The doctor said Madsen's leg wouldn't heal on its own and he'd need to take out the cartilage in his knee, but Madsen's mother, Erlyn, prayed to know what to do.
Erlyn told the Deseret News, “I heard this voice: ‘It’s going to heal.’ I ran down and woke Mark. I told him, ‘Your knee is going to be all right. I heard a voice as clear as day. And you were meant to play basketball.’”
And that's just what Mark "Mad Dog" Madsen did. About his old teammate, NBA player Ervin Johnson said, “Mark is a good man. He has a good heart; he has integrity. He gets along with everybody and always has a smile on his face. He was a fan favorite. He played hard. He just battled. Everybody loved him. I don’t think anyone could say anything bad about him. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met to this day. We have so much respect for each other.”
About his faith and basketball career, Madsen told the Deseret News that being an active Latter-day Saint helped him share his beliefs in the NBA.
"Sometimes they are curious about it, and it's just a chance to shed a bit more light on some of the things I believe," Madsen said. "Then I always appreciate hearing what they believe and having an open dialogue."