The man of many names announced to all of his twitter followers last week that he would be retiring from the game of basketball after 19 long enduring NBA seasons.
Shaquille O’Neal was an unstoppable force in the NBA and could only be slowed down by one person—father time. From the time period of Michael Jordan’s second (and what should have been last) retirement in 1998 to the development of young superstars such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal was by far the most dominant and exciting player in the NBA.
The NBA during the first half of Shaq’s career looked much different in the fact that there was a larger pool of talented future hall of fame big men from Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson to Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, and Tim Duncan.
Shaq proved to shine and rise above the rest despite such tough competition in the middle night in and night out.
Around the latter half of his career, the league became more guard-oriented; allowing him to stay employed as he remained one of the top ten (if not top five) big men even late into his career.
The biggest question that arises amongst hearing all the talk about Shaq’s legacy is which era of his career will he be remembered for most. And on top of that, there is the question regarding which of his six teams should retire his jersey.
The Shaquille O’Neal from 1992-2007 is the Shaq that should be remembered when deciding his place in NBA history. There is no debating or arguing the impact that Shaq had on each of his first three teams. Shaq, from day one, made his presence felt throughout the league in his four years as a member of the Orlando Magic. It was because of him that the league upgraded the material used in making the basketball hoops. If you do recall, much of his Orlando Magic highlights came with backboards breaking, glass shattering, and basket stanchions dropping.
But aside from all the great highlights that we all enjoy, we can’t disregard the fact that he did that in addition to winning games. In fact, if it wasn’t for Michael Jordan and the Bulls dynasty of the 90’s and the superior post game of Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaq might have been able to earn himself a ring or two within his first few seasons.
That Orlando Magic team was built for a championship. They had a young athletically gifted point guard in Penny Hardaway, solid perimeter scorers in Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, a veteran big man with three championships to his name (’91-’93) in Horace Grant, and of course the Big Fella in the middle. The only thing left to do was to actually go out and win a championship.
In those four years in Orlando, the Magic made it to the Conference Finals twice and made an NBA Finals appearance in 1995. No one knows how many championships the Magic could have won had the band stayed together but according to Nick Anderson, all those championships left with Shaq when he decided to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996.
The Lakers, in my opinion, is location where Shaq’s legacy will be most remembered. It was in Los Angeles that he won the 2000 league MVP trophy. It was in Los Angeles that Shaq earned three of his four championship rings to go along with three Finals MVP trophies. Those eight years in Los Angeles are what took Shaq from superstar status to legendary status. He was once quoted saying “hopefully when it’s all said and done people will say Shaquille O’Neal was the greatest Lakers center ever. Unless they say he’s the baddest big man, I won’t be satisfied.”
Phil Jackson helped Shaq elevate his game and molded him into the dominating force he was during that Lakers run of the early 2000s. With Kobe there to handle some of the scoring load, Shaq was free to be the unbelievable presence he was in the paint. The Lakers already announced last week that they plan to retire Shaq’s No. 34 jersey at some point in the future. His time spent in Los Angeles solidified his place among the greats in NBA history and everything he accomplished thereafter proved to be merely icing on the cake.
After his trade to Miami, he was still a great player in the league but he was not the same player he was during his prime with the Lakers. However, his statistics remained high and was able to lead the Heat to the playoffs before handing the baton to Dwayne Wade to finish the job and bring home the organization’s first championship since joining the NBA in 1988. While Shaq was a heavy contributor to the 2006 Miami Heat championship team, his time in Miami still pales in comparison to his time spent in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform.
Disregarding the last four years of his career, one has to pay respect to Shaquille O’Neal and his body of work over nearly 20 years at the highest level. With only the Hall of Fame awaiting him, I feel very confident placing Shaquille O’Neal as the fourth greatest center in NBA history. It would be a stretch moving him to third but I could easily argue him being fourth on that list amongst names such as:
- Bill Russell
- Wilt Chamberlain
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Shaquille O’Neal
- Hakeem Olajuwon
Shaq announced on the Stephen A. Smith ESPN Radio show on Friday that when the time comes, he will be entering the Hall of Fame as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. This is fitting seeing as, in my opinion, he is THE GREATEST LAKERS CENTER OF ALL TIME.
Yeah I said it.
I know I said Wilt Chamberlain is the second greatest center ever but he spent much of his career with the Philadelphia 76ers and played a lesser role alongside the NBA logo and Hall of Fame point guard Jerry West during his time in Los Angeles.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was great and he is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer but even Shaq admitted (which is true) that had he taken better care of his body to be able to play in more games and spent more time working on his free throws he could have finished as high as second on the all-time scoring list as opposed to fifth. Also, while donning the purple and gold, Shaq was a much more dominating presence than Kareem.
As far as the greatest Lakers of all-time regardless of position, I place him at third behind Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.
Shaq’s legacy will live on for decades to come simply because the NBA may never see another player like him again. There has never been another player with as much athleticism and size that he possessed who was also able to dominate both sides of the ball and have the impact that he had. Dwight Howard is the closest thing but as they say “close only counts in horseshoes”.
Shaquille O’Neal finishes his career with plenty of accolades including: league MVP (2000), Rookie of the Year (1993), three-time Finals MVP (2000-02), 14 All-NBA team selections (eight 1st team, two 2nd team, four 3rd team), three All-Defensive 2nd team selections (2000, ’01, ’03), and three All-Star MVPs.
Shaquille O’Neal is a one-of-a-kind athlete whose impact on the court left us with as much joy and entertainment as his charisma off the court.
He will certainly be missed…
…at least his playing days in the NBA.
Shaq will be the first to tell you this is definitely NOT the end for Shaquille O’Neal. It’s only the beginning of the rest of his life. According to him, ESPN has already offered him a job.
I know I could definitely see him hosting a show…or at least having an analyst job like most ex-NBA stars. I mean who wouldn’t want to see this smile on television?