Shaquille O’Neal calls it a career after 19 seasons
Many speculated that when Shaquille O’Neal finally decided to hang up his sneakers for good, he would go out with a celebration that would rival Mardi Gras and Carnival combined. Instead, O’Neal posted a simple message to his Twitter account June 1 with an accompanying video. The message: “I’m retiring.”
In a way the delivery seemed to fit the way his career had gone the last few seasons. Marred by injuries and his advancing age, O’Neal barely resembled the dominant player of his youth, spending more time in the trainer’s room than on the court.
But as with all great players, O’Neal will not be remembered as the player who labored through the final stages of his illustrious career, dragging his gimpy leg up and down the court or struggling to elevate high enough to throw down one of his trademark thunderous dunks. He will be remembered as one of the greatest centers — and players — in NBA history.
Over his 19 seasons, O’Neal won four championship rings — three with the Lakers from 1999-00 to 2001-02 and one with the Heat in 2005-06. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1992-93, won NBA MVP for the 1999-00 season, and won NBA Finals MVP three times. O’Neal was a First Team All NBA selection eight times, Second Team selection twice, and Third Team selection four times while also being named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team three times. He was an All Star 15 times (second only to Abdul-Jabbar’s 19 times) and was MVP of the game three times. He even won a gold medal with the U.S. men’s basketball team, Dream Team II, during the 1996 Olympics.
But as impressive as the stats and accolades are, they only tell part of the story that is Shaq. Few players in NBA history can be considered as outgoing, personable, and memorable as O’Neal. Whether it was his numerous nicknames (Superman, Shaq Diesel, The Big Aristotle, Wilt Chamberneezy, Shaq Daddy, and The Big Shaqtus just to name a few), the two baskets he broke in games, his dancing with the JabbaWockeeZ during his player introduction at the 2009 All-Star Game, all the practical jokes he would pull on teammates, team staff, etc., referring to the Sacramento Kings as the Sacramento Queens, calling Chris Bosh the “RuPaul of big men” after a game against Toronto in 2009, or his highly publicized feud with and ensuing rap about former teammate Kobe Bryant, basketball was never dull with O’Neal around.
However, his personality was even too big to be contained in the sports world he lived in, and he actively searched for other outlets. O’Neal starred (and that term is used loosely) in the movies Kazaam, Blue Chips, and Steel, and appeared in a TV show called Shaq Vs. He also put out five rap albums — one of which, Shaq Diesel, even went platinum. O’Neal even got his Master’s degree from the University of Phoenix and has served as various volunteer law enforcement officers over his seasons in the NBA.
And when it came to reaching out to the community, few did it better than O’Neal. Considering his annual holiday Shaq-a-Claus events for underprivileged children and his constant personal interaction with his massive Twitter following of around four million, he may have been the most accessible sports star ever on the planet.
Yet despite all the diversions, O’Neal made his greatest imprint on the basketball court. He was the most dominant and physically imposing player the game has ever seen. Standing 7-1 and weighing anywhere from 325 lbs. to 380-plus lbs. during his career, every team had to game plan differently when Shaq came to town. Unfortunately for teams, he was so powerful that he could break through even triple teams and finish at the basket strong. Or if he wanted, he could find open teammates with ease, as O’Neal was one of the best passing big men in NBA history.
During an era that saw great centers like Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo take the court, Shaq was arguably the greatest of them all.
But now O’Neal is out of the spotlight — at least temporarily. A once-in-a-lifetime player and character has finally left the game. Post-game quotes will be less entertaining, locker rooms less raucous. O’Neal’s basketball legacy is now set, and in five years, he will very deservedly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
What an induction speech that should be.
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