The NBA’s consummate showman, salesman, impresario, entrepreneur and Fu-Schnickens collaborator, Shaquille O’Neal retired from professional basketball on Wednesday. Shaq went out via Twitter cementing his legacy as not only one of the NBA’s greatest big men, but also its master of social media and self-promotion.
In a 19-year NBA career where he amassed 28,596 points, played 41,918 minutes, hauled down 13,099 rebounds, shot .582 from the field and .527 from the dreaded free throw line, was called for 4,146 personal fouls inflicting untold punishment on his peers, and attempted 22 3-pointers with his one make being in the 1995-96 season, the 39-year-old Shaq has earned the right to be named one of the five greatest big men in NBA history. And those names are:
1. Bill Russell
4. Shaquille O’Neal
We like to label athletes superstars, but Shaquille O’Neal was a true global superstar. Shaq is unquestionably the biggest and baddest mofo in NBA history. No one in the game’s history is capable of matching “Shaq Fu’s” height, size, strength, girth and mind-blowing athleticism. The “Big Dipper”, Wilt Chamberlain, stood 7’1’ and weighed 275 lbs. “The Diesel” matched “The Big Dipper” in height, but Shaq is reported to have played at 325 lbs., which may be a tad low after he entered his 30s.
With the help of his mortal nemesis, Kobe Bryant, “The Diesel” won three NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in a dysfunctional Batman and Robin existence; he garnered another title with the Miami Heat through the assistance of Dwyane Wade; and leaves the game with four rings but not one for the thumb, which he attempted to earn in his last two seasons with LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston’s Big Three.
O’Neal did not simply carve out a career – he exploded onto the NBA as a 20-year-old rookie in 1992-93 with the Orlando Magic - after playing three seasons of college basketball at LSU where Shaq and Stanley Roberts formed twin giants for Dale Brown’s Tigers. Shaq didn’t win a national championship at LSU, nor did he win a state championship in high school, but always he will be remembered for claiming that he had won at every level.
If nothing else, Shaquille O’Neal never lacked hubris. Modesty may have been a reach, but Shaq never appeared to be racked by self-esteem issues. Shaq recognized his unique stature in the game – leveraged his opportunities both on and off the court (endorsements, music deals, film, tv shows) – to create a global brand that is based as much on his basketball accomplishments as it is on the sheer strength of his personality and drive.
Unlike many seven-footers who have gained a paycheck from the National Basketball Association, Shaq never hung his head or walked with stooped shoulders being uncomfortable with his exceptional height and size. Shaq reveled in his grandiosity, in not only physical terms, but also in the mega-wattage of his smile and the infectious nature of his personality. Shaq would counsel young members of the NBA’s seven-footer club to embrace their height, and not to be ashamed of who they were.
Shaq would counsel former Suns teammate Robin Lopez to be proud of his height, but he was never able to graciously pass along the torch of premier NBA big man to Yao Ming or fellow Superman, Dwight Howard. In his younger days, O’Neal maintained a level of animosity towards “The Admiral” David Robinson and Patrick Ewing that was more about being a young punk than it was about respecting one’s elders. The big fellow was quick to flash a smile, and crack a joke, but he was deadly serious about retaining his alpha male position among NBA big men and with his own superstar teammates.
It can be argued that no other elite player in NBA history had more problems with his teammates, who were fellow superstars, than Shaquille O’Neal. That is the inherent conflict with Shaquille O’Neal: the genial and lovable giant versus the egocentric douchebag unable to share credit with talented teammates. Shaq may have been great to the tenth man, but he struggled to comprehend that Penny, Kobe and D Wade were his equals and not his valets.
In Orlando, Shaq and Penny Hardaway parted without bro hugs and crocodile tears. The Lakers’ Kobe and Shaq partnership ended with a messy public separation that haunted each player for years, and though both NBA superstars maintain they have reconciled their differences, neither one is going to invite the other to his retirement party but each would probably like to piss on the other’s grave. (Remember Shaq’s freestyle rap: “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes.”) O’Neal’s Miami Heat tenure ended with an icy relationship between him and D Wade. And Shaq’s brief sojourn in Phoenix was stained by the rumor that he had ripped off Steve Nash’s idea for a reality tv show. Shaq claimed that Nash’s idea was “slightly different”, and the “The Big Cactus” threw Nash a bone by handing him a producer’s credit.
O’Neal has an amazing legacy that transcends the game, and he has managed to create a likeable public persona that he may not fully deserve. It’s hard to dislike the guy when you see him dancing with Jabbawockeez at the 2009 All-Star game. And what little kid wouldn’t want the genie, Kazaam, to be his buddy?
Shaq is truly one of the most fascinating personalities to ever play the game, and he may be the first seven-footer who wasn’t viewed as a circus freak but as that slightly oversized goofball.
In some ways Shaq’s personality and thirst for social media mischief may obscure his contributions to the game, if it does, we’re being shortsighted. In the post-Jordan era, “The Big Aristotle” gave David Stern’s NBA not only a phenomenal basketball talent to market, but a fun-loving personality that softened the edges of a sport suffering from a post-Jordan malaise. LeBron’s “Decision” was polarizing, but we seem to forget that Shaq was – in his own way – a polarizing figure. Back in the day, rooting for Shaq was akin to rooting for the neighborhood bully to take the asthmatic kid’s inhaler. How could anyone root for that guy?
After a long career, Shaq’s body abandoned him. Perhaps it was a product of a less than enthusiastic commitment to physical conditioning, or simply the ravages of a long NBA career spent banging in the paint with other NBA giants, but “The Big Conductor” saw his body betray him just like it abandoned Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Personally, I will miss “Shaqovic.” When Shaq entered the league, I loathed a guy that depended on sheer physical superiority and not textbook basketball fundamentals. Shaq is an aberration – an anomaly – the likes of which we may never view again. And that is something to celebrate. Shaq didn’t have Kareem’s sky hook, he never scored 100 points in a game like Wilt, he wasn’t the model leader or teammate like Bill Russell, and he lacked Hakeem Olajuwon’s Saveon Glover footwork but the man was a force of nature. In what has become a world of replication, Shaq was unique both on and off the court.
Shaq leading the fast break for the LSU Tigers: Watching Shaq snare a rebound, pound the ball over half court and then drop a dime to a teammate was beyond anyone’s comprehension. He did this a few times in the NBA, to the horror of his coaches, but Shaq leading the break didn’t seem to bother Dale Brown.
The Charles Barkley vs. Shaquille O’Neal Throwdown: Perhaps the greatest mano-a-mano confrontation between NBA superstars.
Shaq’s Go-To Offensive Move: For years, “The Big Baryshnikov” would lower his shoulder into his defender’s chest, blast back his physically inferior defender a few feet, and then toss up a shot nearly on top of the rim. This went on for years, until Shaq’s stature in the game started to diminish, and O’Neal was no longer deemed an untouchable by David Stern’s referees.
Free Throw Shooting: The ball would nestle in Shaq’s oversized hand – and resemble a marble – and not a basketball. Shaq would attempt to shoot the ball, with it held flat in the palm of his hand, and where that ball went was anyone’s best guess. Through a lot of hard work, O’Neal ended his career with a free throw percentage of .527, which is a miracle of divine proportions. Maybe Shaq’s improved free throw shooting could be Pope John Paull II’s second miracle for beatification?
Dirk for Shaq: After the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak offered O’Neal for Nowitzki. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban rebuffed the offer. Kobe and Dirk would have been tough to defend.
Shaq Hanging on the Rim after a Dunk: This was “Wilt Chamberneezy” playing on a six-foot elementary school playground hoop and the rest of the NBA playing on ten-foot baskets.
Orlando Magic Teammate Scott Skiles Challenging Superman: Rumor has it that at an Orlando Magic practice, Shaquille O’Neal was claiming he was the biggest, and baddest mofo in the league and that no one could take him down. No one! Skiles, all of 6’1” and a little over 180 lbs. and tired of Shaq’s yapping, sprinted across the court and tackled Shaq to the ground, where they brawled for the title of the baddest man in the NBA.
20-Point Scorer: For the first 14 years of his NBA career, “Hobo Master” averaged over 20 points per season.
Earned $ 292, 198, 327
4 NBA Titles
1992-93 NBA Rookie of the Year
1999-00 NBA MVP
3-Time NBA Finals MVP
3-Time NBA All-Star Game MVP
8-Time All-NBA 1st Team
2nd in Career Field Goal Percentage
7th in Career Points
13th in Career Total Rebounds
3rd in Career PER (26.4)
8th in Career Win Shares
Shaquille O’Neal Career Stats
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