We all knew it was going to come someday. Father time has finally caught up with the once invincible Shaquille O’Neal, forcing him to retire. The most phenomenal combination of size, athleticism, and strength for a big man the league has ever, and most likely will ever see, is now gone but never forgotten. You want to make a case for Dwight Howard? Watch some old Shaq footage or just take a look at their stats … no comparison. We all know what Shaq did on the court. The rings, the posterizing dunks, the shattered back boards, the swats, the MVP’s, the scoring titles, everything he did adds up to his first ballot hall of fame career (can’t wait for that speech). But apart from his on court success, I would like to reflect on his larger than life effect off the court. I’ll keep it relatively short because we’ll definitely be reading books about Shaq in the near future, so I’ll save that work for authors to undergo.
But anyway, the NBA and the professional sports world are going to miss Shaq more than they think. Shaq is an irreplaceable person with un-fillable shoes (literally). Throughout his entire career he truly lived up to his larger than life reputation. His nicknames are endless, earning and declaring names such as The Big Aristotle, (The Original) Superman, The Big Shaqtus, The Big Daddy, The Diesel, The Big Agave, Shaq Fu, and most recently, The Big Shamrock. It seems like the word “Big” is involved with every nickname, but that’s because it describes him perfectly. His sheer physical size of course, but it also describes his personality and overall effect on people.
Wherever Shaq went in the NBA it was media frenzy. Upon his arrival to the Heat he said, “I’m going to make this place a media Mecca.” He also promised a championship there and got one. However, he did the same with Phoenix and Cleveland. Shaq said, “Win a ring for the king!” Lastly, he came to Boston and avoided a promise but clearly stated that that was the focus and only reason he was here. Although he didn’t deliver for us, his time spent here was incredible and memorable. Again, when Shaq is around there is just an energy and essence around him that other players really don’t give off. He played extremely well when healthy and did a lot for the community while he was here. Wish I could’ve seen him pose like a statue in Harvard Square and could’ve attended his performance at the Boston Pops. Even though his way out was rough and injury plagued, that is probably the smallest part that will and should be taken into account when judging his larger than life hall of fame career on and off the court.
I remember my first Shaq experience when the Pacers and Lakers met in the 1999-2000 NBA finals. That was probably the best Pacer team ever assembled, unfortunately, it was going up against one of the most dominant dynasties sports has ever seen. Mainly because it had the most dominant basketball player in history on that team. I watched in awe as he threw down dunk after dunk after dunk. Nobody stood a chance, especially the 7’ 4” Rik Smits. I just remember watching and asking my Dad if anybody could stop him, sadly enough, my Dad just shook his head and said, “the only way to stop him is to “hack-a-shack!” Which I think has been somewhat forgotten over the years and needs to be taken back into account when judging Shaq as a player. Everyone talks about Allen Iverson being the toughest to ever play the game but I think Shaq is right there, if not above. I don’t care who you are; getting intentionally fouled by NBA players every night for roughly 10 years would destroy anybody. That is, anybody except for Shaq.
Apart from my live experience, the one thing I’ve always valued about Shaq is his love for the game. He has a true passion for it. He played until he was 39 and he entertained the world every season with his passion, spontaneity, comedic abilities, and overall kindness and joy. Shaq always had people guessing, always on edge, always left with questions. He was an international icon and lived up to his reputation everyday. Off the court, he continued to entertain by being involved in movies and music. Every year we watch and hear about Shaq’s relationship with Biggie Smalls, and although that may get old, it is pretty damn cool and says a lot about Shaq as a person. Anybody given the opportunity to do a song with Notorious is the man in my book. Not to mention people have expressed that Shaq could’ve saved Biggie. Remember Shaq’s episode on MTV Cribs? That was shot years ago and it is still played constantly. Everything in his house was huge, his cars, chairs, kitchen, everything. People still talk about how big the guy’s bed is! How about all of the commercials he has been in that have brought many laughs. My favorite line was “Never mess with the Shaqtus!” Shaq always did a great job in the community as well. Not just being involved and making appearances, but giving and donating millions and millions of dollars as well.
Four years ago when the NBA All-star weekend was held in Houston I got the great chance to be VIP with my Mom. The trip included many perks but I have to say the most memorable moment was being able to have a lunch with Shaq’s mother and then hear her talk for about 30 minutes. I’ll get this out of the way; when Mrs. O’Neal walked into the room I could see how Shaq’s size made sense. Mrs. O’Neal was an easy 6′ 5″ and was very intimidating at first, just like Shaq. However, after she spoke, she was a very sweet woman that knew what it took to be a great mother. Even though she was sweet, I would not want to be in trouble with her as a child or even a 20 year old. Shaq is the same way. He stands at 7′ 1″ and 325lbs and whenever he walks in a room people are intimidated, but after getting to know him, you find what a good-willed genuine person he is. But just like his mother, NOBODY wants any trouble with Shaq. Nevertheless, meeting Shaq’s mom was an incredible experience for me because I felt like I knew Shaq that much better because I caught a glimpse of his roots. Mrs. O’Neal stated how close their relationship was and told us stories about his childhood. In fact, she stated that she was probably the only human that could tame him, and I didn’t doubt that for a second. She also said that they still talk all the time and that, Sorry Shaq, he’s a big mama’s boy.
In the end we’ll never have another Shaquille O’Neal in the league. Everyone is sad that he’s gone but Shaq will never be out of the spotlight. I was actually a fan of his show Shaq VS and I expect his future shows to be a lot better. He’ll probably do some analyst work but that’s not big enough for Shaq. Shaq can do anything he wants in his post basketball career and I can’t wait to see what he does. The sky is the limit for him and the door is wide open. Actually, I take that back, not anything, I just can’t see Shaq moving too well on the next season of Dancing With the Stars with that achilles.
Thank You Shaq for 19 Great Years!