For He’s a Jolly good fellow: Shaq Retires

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After 19 seasons in the NBA, 6 teams, 1207 games, 28,596 points, 13,099 rebounds, 2,732 blocks and one three pointer, Shaquille O’Neal has retired.  19 years, I am 29, kids being drafted this year are 19, Kyrie Irving was 8 months old when Shaq played his first game for Orlando.  It’s incredible, the longevity, the dominance, the Shaqness of it.  I don’t think I can really say enough about him so I’ll just sort of run it down for you.

I was 10 when I first got into basketball on any level.  Living in the Charlotte area as a kid was awesome because everyone, everyone loved the Hornets, respected Jordan, loved basketball.  I had a friend across the street that had a backyard goal, I had the basketball cards, I was in.  Duke, “MY TEAM” had just won it’s second national championship.  Our 5th grade AG Math teacher took the kids on a field trip to Duke and Carolina every year, so we went, walked on the floor at Cameron Indoor.  I knew Christian Laettner was going to be drafted, whatever that meant so I got into the NBA.  The Bulls were a big deal, winning championships around that same time.  Then there were the Hornets, with Larry Johnson, Grandmama.  It was a great time to be a young fan.

Then, inexplicably, two guys got drafted ahead of Christian Laettner!  How could they?  And the Hornets didn’t take him!  They took some Alonzo Mourning dude.  And supposedly, the Magic, who were ahead of the Hornets, took some guy they called Shack.  No dummy, it’s Shaq, like with a Q.  Oh, ok, whatever.  What was the big deal about this guy?  This was before I knew about Sportscenter, long before the internet, before I really understood the game at all.  I got my info from Harold Johnson on Channel 9 and my friend down the street, they knew just a bit more than me.  Then, probably one Sunday on NBA on NBC, I saw him.  Good grief.  I believe this was around the time I asked if it was ok to use the word “crap.”  And it was!  I probably shouted “HOLY CRAP!”  and then looked to see if anyone heard me.

Dude ripped down a goal.  Not like the rim or the backboard or whatever, but he pulled down the whole stanchion.  He broke it on the upright part, the whole thing came down to the floor, rim, backboard, shot clock, extension arm, the whole thing.  They had to bring in a welder to fix it.  It was unbelieveable.  I had never seen a person like that.

He was like if Andre “the Giant” had athleicism, plus some.  He moved like a regular sized dude, not smooth like Jordan, but he seemed more athletic than Magic or Barkley, certainly more agile than the centers of the day.  Even David Robinson and Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwan and not to mention all the stiff white dudes that were starting centers around the league at that time, they all looked like stiffs compared to Shaq.

We went to the mall a lot in those days.  I don’t remember why, but it seemed like twice a month.  I remember going to the card shop beside Chic-Fil-A, then the CD store across the way and sometimes go check out the shoe store.  They had a display in the front of Foot Locker or whatever and on top they had an actual size Shaquille O’Neal shoe.  It was massive.  My Dad still talks about it whenever the name “Shaq” comes up.  The size was part of it.  7’1″ 325 or whatever they listed him at, dude was massive.  The thing about the size was, he could move!  Dude could run the floor, jump out of the gym and hustle for loose balls.  The size wasn’t what kept him in the league.  There are taller dudes, there are guys just as bulky, but no one has ever had the athleticism, size, bulk and basketball ability like Shaquille O’Neal.

So, we had a new fascination.  Not only the hometown guys, Larry Johnson, Muggsey, Zo and the Dream Team was this incredible national juggernaut that everyone loved, MJ, Bird, Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Malone and Stockton, on top of all that greatness, there was Shaq.  Just an awesome time to come up to the point of watching complete games, not just the highlights or keeping up with the wins and losses, I was gaining an understanding of the game.

“Penny” Hardaway was drafted, joined Shaq and Nick Anderson, Orlando instantly became awesome.  Before that, in his rookie year, I remember watching my first All-Star game.  Everyone was enamored, then they actually had success when Penny came along.  It was pretty frustrating though.  It seemed unfair.  As a Hornets fan, I didn’t see how they could do anything in the East with Jordan and the Bulls and Shaq and the Magic in place.  So, I became a fan of the game.  Certainly, it was Hornets first but I just appreciated the entire deal, top to bottom, I loved NBA Basketball.

Then he started doing rap records, driving those lowered cars, wearing funny clothes, “acting” in movies.  Jordan never did any of that, who did he think he was?  Larger than life and more personality than anyone who had come before him or since.  I think he just figured out, people are going to look at me, enjoy it, make it profitable.  So even with MJ still fully the King of the NBA, he was the dominant force and the most entertaining guy, the attention had shifted.

I remember buying a magazine with this amazing hologram on the cover of Shaq dunking.  I cut it out and taped it up in my locker in middle school.  Then one day I opened my locker to see that someone had broken in to my locker and balled it up, ripped up some papers and basically just screwed everything up and I was crushed.  I actually saw that magazine on sale on EBay recently, going for something like $50.  Whoever it was, you suck and you owe me $50 cause I’d still have that thing now.  (Never mind I had cut the picture out, killing the value) Bastards.

As I reached high school, Shaq left Orlando for Los Angeles.  He’d made Blue Chips with Nick Nolte, Penny and whoever the white kid was, I loved it.  I loved that he was nicknamed “The Diesel” and we had a diesel Suburban and all that.  He was so dominant and got his MVP my senior year in high school.  Those championships with Kobe and Phil Jackson with the Lakers, it was the peak of his career.  Sure it seemed like “Evil Empire” stuff, but no one hated Shaq.

People hated Kobe.  People didn’t like when Karl Malone and Gary Payton decided to glomb on in hopes of riding the Diesel and Kobe to a championship to cap off their career.  I don’t think Shaq liked it anymore either.  So, better or worse, he was traded on that down slope of his career to Miami.  Every year had been his year, he made the All-Star game every year except ’98-’99 for 15 years.  It got bigger and bigger and those Championships were topped by the parade afterwards when Shaq was the main attraction.  The trade to Miami was no different, he was announced and introduced with a parade and all that.  Dude was huge.  He promised a championship in Miami and delivered.

Then he started breaking down a bit.  It was the knee, he was gaining weight, he’d show up to the season heavy and wouldn’t be himself ’til like December and January.  Miami was paying him more than $20 million a year at this point.  They had Dwayne Wade but they couldn’t compete with a hampered Shaq.  They traded him to Phoenix, where he became the “Big Shaqtus” or something.  The pre-game intros were legendary with Shaq involving the entire bench.  Then he was voted into the All-Star game and had an insane intro with the Jabberwockies.  He was just a freakin’ entertainer that played basketball incredibly well.  The Superman tattoo, the persona, the dominant game.  No one wanted it to end.

Then he went to Cleveland to try and push Lebron over the edge to win a title last year.  Well, as we have seen, that didn’t pay off.  He hurt his thumb against Boston, then ended up losing to Boston when he was finally healthy in the playoffs.  Lebron acted like the child he is and jerked off his uniform never to be worn again and Shaq was open to free agency.  Did anyone want him?  What would happen?  He could join up with the Heatles, back to Miami, but I think he was so over Pat Riley and the whole deal.  Boston was where he ended up, but everyone knew it was a closing window.  He was out to get that 5th ring, one short of Jordan, even with Kobe and one more than Duncan.

Well, that didn’t really work out either.  Hurt again, old and slow to recover, it wasn’t what Boston had hoped for and certainly not what Shaq wanted to contribute.  He had a really good game against, of all teams, The Bobcats.  Going off for 23 points in Charlotte. It was the final time I’d see Shaq in person, it was worth it.  (had the Bobcats missed the playoffs by 1 game, it would not have been worth it)

When I heard he’d retired, and done it on twitter with some new platform that he’s promoting, I was sad but not surprised.  Shaq said that the achillies could be worked on but it’d be 9 months down the road before he could start coming back and he didn’t want to hold Boston hostage.  With the looming lockout, a new younger girlfriend (albeit Flavor Flav’s castoffs) and so many different ways to stay relevant, why risk it?

There was so much good, a little bad but so great over the years, I’ll always like Shaq.  I’ll watch him on “Shaq VS” I’ll start following him on twitter again.  He’s a worldwide icon.  He never came out and said that’s what he wanted, it’s just who he was and his personality.  The bad stuff, the burning bridges, the lack of work ethic, the weight he’d put on, the telling Kobe to lick his shoe or whatever he said, self promotion and all of that, just part of the game, just part of the essence of Shaq.  Man, I’ll miss the guy.  It’ll be the first season I fully pay attention to that he’s not a player in, can you believe that?  Thanks Shaq and best wishes going forward.