Shaquille O'Neal Jokes He Was 'Always Jealous' of David Beckham (Exclusive)

"And then I finally met him and he was a cool guy,” the NBA legend tells PEOPLE at the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix

<p>Ethan Miller - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty </p> Shaquille O

Ethan Miller - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty

Shaquille O'Neal joked that he was "always jealous" of David Beckham at the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Nov. 18.

Before the legendary athletes were friends, Shaquille O'Neal was a bit envious of David Beckham!

The retired basketball star, 51, and the soccer player, 48, attended the Sports Illustrated-hosted Club SI party at the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Saturday — where O'Neal joked that he once had a one-sided rivalry with Beckham.

Speaking exclusively with PEOPLE at the Formula 1 (F1) racing event, O'Neal joked that he was once "jealous" of Beckham but now that he knows the soccer star — and his family — well, he thinks he's a "great guy."

Related: David Beckham Has Stylish Night with Son Cruz at Party During F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix

"I was always jealous of him," the NBA legend tells PEOPLE, explaining that it was "professional jealousy," because he "wanted to be the highest-paid athlete ever," and at the time Beckham, whom O'Neal didn't know, was a big earner.

Once the legendary players became acquainted, however, O'Neal changed his tune.

"And then I finally met him and he was a cool guy,” he says. “And if you never saw his documentary [Netflix’s Beckham], you should watch it. I never knew he had to go through all that too, but it just shows you how great he is, how he persevered through all that stuff.”

<p>Shaquille-O-Neal-David-Beckham-111923</p> Shaquille O'Neal (left) and David Beckham attend the Sports Illustrated Club SI event at the F1 Grand Prix.


Shaquille O'Neal (left) and David Beckham attend the Sports Illustrated Club SI event at the F1 Grand Prix.

He continues, "I know his wife, I know his kids, and again, it's just, even though I'm the Shaq, I'm not Shaq, I'm just a regular person. So the fact that I have David Beckham's number, Tom Brady's number on my phone ... [it] doesn't get any bigger than that."

Related: Dax Shepard Looking Forward to 'Rowdy Race Fans' as Vegas Prepares for Hollywood Takeover at First F1 Race

Also at the Saturday race, which was won by Dutch driver Max Verstappen. O’Neal revealed that he does not follow F1 racing, but wishes all of the drivers a “successful race” — and “no crashes.”

The basketball star also shared a moment that led him to change his mind about motor racing.

“I had a show a long time ago, Shaq Vs., and I raced Dale Earnhardt Jr. But before that, I said that these guys aren't athletes,” he tells PEOPLE. “But after driving the car for… it wasn't even a real race. We had a little track, but I was the most tired I've ever been.”

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Since squashing his jealousy for Beckham, O’Neal has spent quite a bit of time with the soccer star and his family — sons Brooklyn, 24, Romeo, 21, Cruz, 18, and daughter Harper, 12.

In 2018, when Victoria Beckham and her fashion brand joined forces for a collection with Reebok, she recruited O’Neal.

The former Spice Girl, 49, said that the line was inspired by Reebok’s heritage and iconic ’90s style, which is where O’Neal — a longtime Reebok ambassador and one of the biggest stars of the era — came into the picture.

“I had so much fun tonight, being welcomed into the Reebok family, by Shaq. The merch collection is really a celebration of him, the ’90s and Reebok’s heritage,” Victoria said at an event dedicated to the 2018 sportswear collaboration.

Related: All About David and Victoria Beckham's 4 Kids

At the time, the fashion designer also shared a photo of herself and O’Neal in which she needed to stand on top of a wooden box to minimize their major height difference, and a clip of herself “dunking” from atop the basketball star’s shoulders.

Her soccer star husband also snapped a pic with O’Neal, which he shared on Instagram.

“Me and the big man having a casual dinner ... Always amazing to be in the presence of a true legend @shaq @lakers 💜💛,” he captioned the shot.

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