It was Summer of '95. A magical time when dogs could play basketball and basketball players could play genies.
Shaquille O'Neal had just wrapped up filming Kazaam, a film that would go on to win four Oscars as well as a Grammy for best original song, "I Am Kazaam!"
Buddy, Air Bud, Howlingford was the new pup in town.
He'd been the top dog back at Northridge Highschool where he averaged a double-double in points and steals during his senior season - a season that ended with a storybook state title.
When the movie execs heard the story, they moved to monetize it almost immediately. Buddy had enrolled at UCLA, and he was leading the conference in steals when the executives came knocking.
Buddy told himself that school could wait, and he took the job. He was a real triple-threat: athlete, actor, sex symbol.
Not to be outdone, young Shaquille O'Neal had already proven himself as an athlete, actor, and rapper, so when the two finally crossed paths, there was a palpable tension in the air.
As fate would have it, they met on a basketball court. Air Bud had to make 1,000 free throws every day.
He was like a robot out there - lining up the shot, jumping, and popping the ball toward the hoop with his snout - just like Larry Bird taught him.
Shaquille O'Neal was on the other half of the court hustling arrogant actors for their coin.
He'd dress up as Kazaam to trick the actors, and it was only after they'd shaken hands that he would remove his turban and reveal that he was Shaquille O'Neal.
Buddy had just finished up his free throws, and Shaq had just beaten Adam Sandler for the second time in as many days. Buddy was walking off the court when Shaq asked him if he wanted to play.
"One on one, mano-y-doggo. You and me, pup." It wasn't an invitation; it was a demand.
"Bark!" Air Bud agreed nonchalantly.
Shaquille O'Neal had the height advantage, but Air Bud had the experience; he was thirty-five in dog years. He started in with the trash talk immediately.
Shaq knew how to use the 25:1 size discrepancy in his favor, and he got out to an early lead. But Air Bud had heart, and he had stamina.
O'Neal was getting more and more lazy with his dribbling, and after some timely steals, and some big three-pointers, Air Bud was back in the game.
The score was fourteen to fourteen, and the next point would decide the game.
The next part of the story is the subject of much contention. Shaquille O'Neal and his camp contend that Shaq was fouled, while Air Bud and his camp argue that Buddy made a clean steal.
After attempting to review footage on a 1993 video camera, an investigatory team was able to determine that Shaq had stepped on Buddy's tail, causing him to lose his footing.
O'Neal maintains that the tail was intentionally wagged into place - an accusation that Buddy fervently denies.
At any rate, Air Bud had stolen the ball, and Shaq scrambled to his feet to play defense despite his insistent cries for a foul.
In the moments between bounces, Air Bud's mind faded back to the Sierra Nevada mountains where he'd been discovered all those years ago. He'd been abandoned, and left to die.
Thankfully, he'd found a home with a family that recognized his God-given talent for human sports.
Everything was moving in slow motion, and that was the cue. Air Bud snapped out of his memory and back into the game.
Buddy dribbled left, then back to the right, and Shaq was just confused as hell by all that back and forth. He was right where Buddy wanted him.
Suddenly, Buddy dribbled back to the left, and he took off for the hoop. Shaq tried to keep up, but dogs are too fast even for Shaq.
Buddy jumped for the hoop and spun 360 degrees before slamming the ball and shattering the backboard - just like Larry Bird taught him.
That win ushered in a long, successful career for Buddy Howlington. "Air Bud" was a success at the box office, and everyone forgot about Kazaam.
No one even brought it up unless they were trying to make fun of Shaq.
Buddy became the first animal to appear on American currency, and although the decision received some bad press, most people agreed that Sacagawea would understand.
After fathering four litters and earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Buddy retired from public life and spent his remaining years in peace and prosperity.
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the end for Shaquille O'Neal. His sports career was fading as were his boyish good looks.
Shaq would go on to lose another high-profile game, this time against Aaron Carter, and that really sealed the deal for the gentle giant.
He was sent to a farm in the country where he lived out the rest of his days.