Friday June 3, 2011
In the 1992 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic selected a 7’1″ 325-pound center named Shaquille O’Neal to rebuild their franchise. They picked a center that would emerge as one of the greatest centers in NBA history. They picked a center that changed the NBA forever. Nineteen years later, he announced his retirement to the world.
O’Neal began a career that would rival in dominance and popularity amongst other players. He broke two backboards (not rims, backboards), one in New Jersey and the other in Phoenix. These two moments catapulted him into a level that no big man had reached yet. Fans were lining up just to see if O’Neal would bring another backboard down. Add his charisma and demeanor, the NBA had a superstar in the making.
Superstardom wasn’t enough for O’Neal. He signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996. O’Neal and Kobe Bryant became a new dynamic duo that was nearly unstoppable. By 2002, he was a part of the Lakers’ three-peat starting from the 2000 NBA Finals. O’Neal was named MVP of the NBA Finals all three times and had the highest scoring average for a center in NBA Finals history. After a few “disagreements” between O’Neal and the Lakers’ management, he was traded to the Miami Heat at the end of the 2003-04 season. O’Neal then went on to become a four time champion in 2006, bringing the Heat their first championship in franchise history. He quickly became a force again with the help of Dwyane Wade. Yet, Miami also saw the start of O’Neal’s decline.
O’Neal underwent surgery on his left knee in the 2006-07 season. This began a string of injuries that would lead to his downfall. O’Neal was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2008. He made his 15th and last All-Star Game as a member of the Suns. From there, he was traded to Cleveland in 2009. O’Neal was supposed to be the bodyguard for LeBron James at that time. It did not work out as O’Neal went to Boston for his final year. He suffered an injury to his Achilles’ tendon and came back, but he also suffered a calf injury. The combination of these injuries made O’Neal miss the remaining games of this past season and the first round of the playoffs. Last Wednesday, O’Neal announced his retirement via Twitter. Two hours ago, he made it official.
What is Shaquille O’Neal’s legacy? Is he the greatest center of all time? Is he even close into that discussion? If you go by rings, O’Neal is not at that level of Russell, Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar. If you go by individual accolades, O’Neal is closer to them. Yet, a man should not be measured with those who preceded him. In fact, O’Neal made their legacies better while cementing his own. Without the likes of those big three above, O’Neal would not have emerged as one of the most popular centers in history. He became a superstar in many avenues of the entertainment industry. O’Neal made his mark not only in sports but in music, movies and television. Whether you liked them or not, you were watching Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal became what few players became from that era: an ambassador to the NBA.
For a man who has dubbed many nicknames over the years (too many to mention), Shaquille O’Neal has left the NBA. Good-bye. We’ll miss you.
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