Thursday, June 2, 2011
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Which of big daddy’s homes will retire his jersey?
By Tim David Harvey
On Wednesday the biggest, funniest, most enjoyable, entertaining and dominant NBA player ever called it a one-of-a-kind career. It is a sad day in the NBA now one of the associations most unique and charismatic players ever has said his goodbye. There truly is no one like Shaquille O’Neal. No one can question his heart, his talent or his sheer dominance of the game that he has re-defined along the way. The one question that does arise about this mans 18 year career is which team is most deserving of retiring his jersey?
Although any of his teams could claim reason to retire one of his multiple jersey numbers in the 30’s, which team is Shaq most identifiable with? Which team most represents Shaq at his very best and most defining? Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland or Boston? Let’s take a look.
ORLANDO MAGIC: (Number 32, 1992-1996): Best Season: 29.3ppg, 13.2rpg, 59.9 FG%.
Fresh out of LSU with the number one pick in the 1992 Draft (complete with smile and disbelief (“Me?”)) the most dynamic NBA player ever entered the league. From his Rookie of the Year season Shaq proved to be a legit, dominant 20 and 10 guy and this was just the tip of this very big iceberg. At certain points at his time with the Magic ‘Shaq Daddy’ was almost a 30 and 15 guy. The league had not seen dominance like this since a certain tall man named Wilt was doing his thing. From the dipper to the daddy the league was about to get fathered again.
It only became better for Orlando when O’Neal was joined by Penny Hardaway in his sophomore season. This was the first of many partnerships formed with shooting guards/small forwards that have defined Shaq’s career. With the most exciting guard/forward not named Michael Jordan and Shaq throwing bodies around in the paint the future looked as bright as the Florida weather. Sometimes in life however things take a turn for a worse, sometimes thing stop you from achieving what you want. Things like injury. Things like Hakeem Olajuwon.
Shaq may have not claimed his first championship with the Magic but his time in Orlando was great and he did obtain a Olympic Gold Medal and a platinum rap album in the process. This may have only been the beginning of better things to come but Orlando is where it all started for Shaquille. It represents arguably his most exciting time in the league. He was playing like a man possessed and the hype was immense, he was outstanding. Orlando would never garner as much interest until a young heir to the superman throne named Dwight Howard was drafted. Notice the similarities?
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: (Number 34, 1996-2004): Best Season: 29.7ppg, 13.6rpg, 57.4 FG%.
The diesel's longest, most successful and most turbulent time came with the Los Angeles Lakers. Winning three back to back rings with the most exciting guard/forward the league has seen since Michael Jordan. The Lakers could easily be anybody's clear choice for the team most likely to retire his jersey if it wasn’t for the way things where left. The Lakers represent both Shaquille in his prime and the time were O’Neal garnered the most newspaper headlines for all the right reasons… and all the wrong reasons.
When the basketball/movie/rap star moved to LA he showcased some award winning performances. Shaq won titles and MVP’s with the Lakers. This felt like home for the biggest personality in the NBA. Just like it did for Wilt and just like it did for Magic. I tell you Jack, Hollywood was watching like Nicholson.
Just as things couldn’t get any better…they didn’t. Shaq and Kobe may have been the most dominant partnership in the league, ruling the paint and the perimeter but they had a beef as high-profile as Jay-Z and Nas. When they got it together they were arguably the greatest one-two punch in NBA history but when they fell apart they contributed to the death of a dynasty.
Things are better nowadays for Shaq and Kobe. A couple of seasons back they shared MVP honours at the All-Star game and they played together like it was old times. Some Laker fans even hoped that maybe LA could bring back Shaq for one last title run. It seems that you can’t think of one of these guys without thinking about the other. Shaq may be more identifiable with Kobe then he is with the Lakers but if this franchise doesn’t retire his jersey after everything he’s done for them it’ll be an injustice.
MIAMI HEAT: (Number 32, 2004-2008): Best Season: 22.9ppg, 10.4rpg, 60.1 FG%.
Shaquille O’Neal’s first years in Miami were his redemption. Soured by the way things ended up in Los Angeles, Shaq was excited from day one down in South Beach armed with his super soaker. It was fun for the Miami Heat too. Sophomore sensation Dwyane Wade was poised to be one of the most exciting talents in the league and all he needed was a partner in crime. In came Shaquille O’Neal and there was the third partnership. The partnership between Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade was the most compatible and friendly, the pair was exactly what each other needed. When they won their championship together they were dominant. If Kobe wasn’t as talented as he is he would have probably looked like the bitter ex because this new partnership was getting all the headlines for all the right reasons.
So Shaquille’s time in Miami could have been personally his best time. He made his way out of a bad break-up and helped form an exciting and successful team. This team however did not last too long either, but it could of. There was no dynasty in Miami, key guys got injured and other significant pieces left or retired. Times were good in Miami, but they were short.
Shaq may have reached milestones in his time with Miami but in his last season injuries and fouls became the better of him. He was still a force but when he was traded to Phoenix that was it. Shaq didn’t leave things on the best note with Miami. Some words were exchanged about Pat Riley through the press (and nobody was singing anybodies praises) but that being said it was nothing like the fallout in Los Angeles. The ‘Big Aristotle’s’ time in Miami will always be looked at as a happy and successful one.
PHOENIX SUNS: (Number 32, 2008-2009): Best Season: 17.8ppg, 8.4rpg, 60.9 FG%.
OK so clearly Shaquille’s season and a bit in Phoenix wasn’t as career defining as his time in Orlando, Los Angeles or Miami but it was nothing to turn your nose up at. With an eye still intact for passing and a feel for offence Shaq was still Shaq. When O' Neal came in critics wrote him off as finished and fans were scared the fast-breaking Suns would be slowed down. Only one of these things happened but to Shaq’s credit, the Mike D’Antoni era Suns had come to an end long before ‘the Diesel’ came to re-fuel Arizona. The Suns may have been slower but they had a force in the middle with ‘The Big Cactus’ ready to prick critics.
Shaquille has always faced criticism about his weight and conditioning but during his time in Phoenix he stepped in the rejuvenating machine. O’Neal proved again that the one who would have the last word (or in his case words) would be him. Shaq was drop stepping, slam dunking and baby hooking his way through the west like he was in L.A. again. He even had a 45 and 11 night against Toronto. The Shaq of old was back and his famous one liner's had the goods to back them up.
Although in his full season with the Suns Shaq didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in his career, his time in Phoenix was clearly a success. His tenure may not go down in history or measure up to the feats he has achieved with his other teams but it still holds something special. Shaquille’s time with Phoenix showed his detractors that he could still play like an All-Star and give a half decent team a legitimate shot. Shaq proved that as a veteran he could still play like a young buck. Shaquille proved everybody wrong in the biggest way he has done in his whole career.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: (Number 33, 2009-2010): Best (Only) Season: 12.0ppg, 6.7rpg, 56.6 FG%.
After playing with Penny, Kobe and Dwyane, Superman’s next rescue mission was to ‘Win a Ring for the King’. Although he was unsuccessful in turning this motto into a declaration he still had a solid year. Solid players however don’t get their jerseys retired but then again Shaq isn’t just any other ‘solid’ player. It’s safe to say though after only logging one season as a Cavalier the number 32 will still be available for Cleveland players in the future.
If O’Neal had turned the Cleveland ‘Wine and Gold’ into champagne and championship gold then maybe Shaq’s status and jersey in LeBron’s former home would have ‘risen’. With that being said however reputation doesn’t always count for everything, especially in LeBron’s case. It’s not like Cleveland fans will be happy to plan a retirement ceremony for anybody’s jersey number at the moment anyway.
BOSTON CELTICS: (Number 36, 2010-2011): Best (Only) Season: 9.2ppg, 4.8rpg, 66.7 FG%.
At the press conference in New England Shaq looked as dapper as an old English gentleman, decked out in a suit and bow tie. The reason for his attire? He felt like he is joining an executive club...and he was. So many legends have played for the Celtics that one of the only jersey numbers available in the 30’s for O’Neal was the number 36. This jersey number probably won't join the other Celtic greats amongst the banners but still the 'bballfather' is still passed through the biggest organisation for ballplayers and big men as one of the biggest players ever. Shaquille may be a larger than life super player but his stats are smaller than his reputation, but still that doesn't matter one iota next to the one thing that should be read; 'legend'.
Maybe his time at Boston may be remembered more like Hakeem Olajuwon’s time at Toronto then Karl Malone’s time at the Lakers but that doesn't mean either guys last years where bad, they where just different. Plus even if it was in less minutes Shaquille recorded a career high field-goal percentage in a career of leading statistics in that category. Who knows if it wasn't for injuries and Nate Robinson pranks (as hilarious as they where) all Boston may have needed was a little bit of ‘Diesel’ to taste champagne again.
Still it wasn't to be. You best believe Shaq is a man of his word and would have honoured his contract and played a year if it wasn't for the irritation of injury and the irregularity it does to ones intentions. Someone must have had to literally drag the big fella away for the court...now would you want to be the one to have to do that? Still, when Shaq was on the floor for Boston he was his old, 'young' self being a big factor for the Shamrock green Celtics. Plus how fitting that Shaquille said goodbye to the game in the same year as his championship mentor Phil Jackson? This former Laker also did something most other purple and gold legends (apart from Rick Fox) in history couldn't; he extended his iconic reach and popularity to Boston.
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Career Averages: 23.7ppg, 10.9rpg, 58.2 FG%.
Shaquille may not have the luxury that the John Stockton’s, Larry Bird’s and the Magic Johnson’s of the league had. Shaquille may not have had one franchise to call his home for his career but at the same time he is no journeyman. Shaquille is larger than life and greater than any one portion of his career. He has had defining moments with each of the six teams he has played for. The Magic, the Lakers and the Heat can all claim that Shaquille had his best times while with them. Plus with more career jersey numbers then Rodman requested (that's the fault of the Lakers and Celtics tradition for legendary bigs) if all the teams Shaq has played for threw him a retirement ceremony then what would be so wrong with that (maybe the state of Florida should do a dual tribute)? After all Shaquille has given the league more years on top, dominance, entertainment and laughs then anybody else has. Every one of those six teams should have been proud to have given him their jersey. From the baby hooks to the dunks and the passes to the shattering of backboard glasses. It's hard to say goodbye to someone so great but what an iconic and incredible run. From one form of entertainment he may be retired but believe me...he aint done.