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."
"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.”
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."