With news coming out that the Lakers will retire Shaq’s jersey, the Diesel will live on forever as one of the Laker immortals. He’ll join Magic, Kareem, the Logo, Baylor, Wilt, Worthy, and Goodrich as one of the all-timers that Laker fans have been lucky enough to call their own at some point in their historic careers. It’s truly and honor to join those hall of famers in the rafters of Staples, but Shaq has earned that right. The three championships he helped deliver were more than enough.
And while some would rather focus on the way he left the organization, the fact that he may not have been as committed to his conditioning during his time with the team, or how he joined the Celtics for one last run, I won’t be one of those guys. Hindsight tells me that in the bigger picture, those things really don’t matter as much as all the good times; as all the winning.
The most persisting memory for most is likely the alley-oop that Shaq caught from Kobe Bryant in the western conference finals that capped that fantastic comeback that propelled the team to the Finals and, ultimately, the NBA championship that season. Over at Pro Basketball Talk, our old friend Kurt recalls that game too as he was there to see it in person:
I lucked into tickets for Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. Someone I worked with at the time was a Lakers season ticket holder and had playoff tickets, but he had to fly back to England for his sister’s wedding and so he had to sell his Game 7 seats (well before anyone knew there would be a Game 7).
As a Lakers fan, with obnoxious Blazers fans right behind me, there was nothing like that game. The lows of missed shots. The highs of the comeback (which was fueled by so many Blazer misses of shots they had not missed for six and three quarters games).
Then the ally-oop.
And the explosion of noise in Staples Center. A building where now everyone was hugging and high-fiving everyone, whether you knew them or not. You were now there with your 19,000 best friends. Los Angeles is not like that, you don’t talk to your neighbors, or the guy in the next seat. But on this day we all knew we were witnessing one of the best sports moments of our lives. Los Angeles felt like a family.
Shaq did that. I’m going to miss him for all of it.
More than that game or even that play, the reason why that memory lives with me the most is the feeling that it embedded in me for the rest of Shaq’s career with the Lakers (and ultimately for most of the rest of his non-Laker career too).
From that point forward, I felt that anything was possible and that the Lakers could win any game that they played. No deficit was ever too big; no game was ever out of reach. When the Lakers went into the playoffs, I always felt that they would win. It’s what made the losses in 2003 to the Spurs and in 2004 to the Pistons so hard, but also what made rooting for the team so fun during that period. Shaq and his partnership with Kobe made the Lakers a juggernaut and I always felt that in a 7 game series, their talent would win out.
Those teams were special and as much as Kobe played a vital and crucial role on those teams (they don’t win without Kobe, and probably don’t win with any other of the great wings of that era in his place), Shaq was the catalyst on those teams. It doesn’t diminish Kobe’s value – those teams needed both players – but it also speaks to the value of a Shaq in peak form. With that man playing for the team that you rooted for, a championship was in play. Only a few players a generation create that aura and he was one of them. And for that I was, and remain, eternally grateful.
I understand that things weren’t always perfect. And part of me will always wish things wouldn’t have deteriorated the way that they did so the Lakers would have had a chance to continue to compete for championships with Kobe and Shaq playing together. But looking back, things worked out well for both players. Shaq got his title in Miami and the Lakers have won 2 more titles (and are in the hunt for more) with a team built around Kobe.
But my memories of those teams will be with me forever and Shaq was a key part of that. We’ve been saying goodbye to the big fella for several days now but today I say it one more time. The memories are just too strong for me not to.
*and Chick. Shaq will also join Chick.
dave m says
A terrific piece, that’s all I can say.
Great article Darius, glad you could add Kurt’s experience into it, I was at game 2 that year, and it was just wonderful times back then with Shaq and Kobe.
It was for me, the most dominating thing to watch in terms of inside outside ball. Now I started watching after Cap retired so I just hear of his greatness with Magic and I’m sure Wilt and West were a beauty to watch, but Shaq and Kobe were pretty damn awesome to watch. I truly wish I had enough money in those days to get the NBA league pass as I’ve managed to do now. While this Laker team gets maligned for their focus and nonchalance, those Laker teams were the same way. The only difference was that that team truly could turn it on when it felt like it. Living in Northern California, littered with nothing but Kings, Warriors, and to a smaller extent Portland fans beating up on those teams was great. Their fans would constantly berate those Laker teams b/c they knew when it came to crunch time it was over. Great article and reflecting on the Shaq years and his overall carefree nature. Despite the internal feuding those were some great times……………..In other news looks like Ettore Messina has agreed to join Mike Brown’s staff.
Edwin Gueco says
Shaq will have his time at the Staples rafters together with other legends. I think he’s qualified for the honor but being a prodigal son, he has to toe the line and wait for his turn. Perhaps, at the same year when he is declared as a member of HOF, then give him that due honor. With regards to statues, nobody should have put those statues for the living, it should have been decided by future generation of fans/owners. However it seems the owner of Staples used it as a marketing tool, now everybody who delivered championships wanted a statue. One of these days, Clippers will also claim for a piece of statue. The honor has been utterly abused and the piece of stone is about to lose its values.
Edwin Gueco says
Ettore Mesina is a great addition, even though I heard that he was coach of premier teams in the Euro league. Here is my question, how can a Euro player who wanted to join the Lakers without passing through the draft? I’m not too familiar with those ramifications. If Lakers want to get 3pt shooters like Peja or Bellinelli, the guy to ask is Marco. Essentially, the assistant coach now becomes a scout since Lakers terminated all scouts during the anticipated lockout season. The greatest thing that could happen is to trade one of our bigs to either Dwight or Chris or Deron. Having said that, trading one of our bigs to acquire the 2nd tier F/A’s like Felton, Barea, Smith. I think it is not worthy. I would roll the dice to 4 new names in the 2nd round draft picks. It will really change the dynamics, the spacing and speed of this team If we get a veteran PG like Deron and CP3. On a worse case, no trade works out because we are the hated Lakers, then find a way to cut salaries from those who play less and upgrade the youth group. Trey Johnson and Ebanks are two guys who can more or less increase Laker speed. They need to be NBA ready.
Mesina is a good addition to Lakers coaches but Kuester OMG! mix him with Artest, Kobe and LO, I think that will be more controversial than Mike Brown. It is the start of Lakers mutiny. Do you think these pros don’t exchange notes with each other especially during lockout period?
Wilt/West were awesome to watch and it was a very different NBA back then. The league had several great teams with the Lakers, Boston, New York, Baltimore and even others this was before expansion diluted the league. Wilt might have been the strongest player and the best athlete to have played in the NBA. Wilt benched pressed 500 pounds once and held several Big 8 records in Track and field also. He was a well rounded person very much so and West well….he is the logo enuf said!
Kareem/Magic & Showtime Lakers….greatest Laker teams ever to date. They simply dominated during their time and they played and beat some other great teams to win their rings. Watching them was a thing of basketball beauty… I remember Magic grabbing rebounds and simply yelling “Let’s Go” the whole team immediately knew what that meant and everyone filled a lane baby! It was truly a pleasure to watch the greatest team player ever “Magic” along with “The Captain” and “Big Game James”… quickest power forward ever to play….what a show!
This brings us to Shaq/Kobe…yes a dominate duo no doubt but the other Laker championship teams were better hands down. This team did what it had to do and any time you 3-peat it is a worthy feat but no way they beat the Showtime Lakers ever.
While I do believe they could have beaten the 70’s Lakers…altho the 33 in a row team was an awesome team….the size of a modern team would have given them problems…guards now are as big as forwards were back then. So while West and Wilt could have played against any1 in any era…the rest of the team would have been overwhelmed. But within the context of their era…what a great team!
Seen them all and here it is…
#1 Showtime Lakers
#2 Wilt/West Lakers
#3 Shaq/Kobe Lakers
Great Article. I would agree with Shaq that the Shaq/Kobe duo is the best one-two punch in the History of the NBA.
“Now’ you gonna [trade] me?”
Don Ford says
@Hale #9: As powerful and entertaining as Shaq was those years, I’m afraid the “Now you gonna pay me?” quote you reference is up there with NVE’s “Cancun!” and the like . . .
After all, Shaq for the memories…
By the way, a bit off-topic ( I didn’t want to see it get lost in a previous post):
What about Messina? Is he signed? What role is he going to have? That guy is brilliant (if the players buy on him).
@11: The word is he has agreed to become Brown’s full-time assistant and advisor.
I’m pretty excited about the hire. Messina is reportedly a very strong-willed guy that demands the best from his players.
I like that he emphasizes a team first environment (he wouldn’t be afraid to bench star players) and a offense that looks to go to the post first.
Really want to see how this turns out.
@7….Just to clarify I’m not putting Kobe/Shaq teams ahead of those teams. I can’t attest to their greatness b/c I didn’t have the pleasure of watching them. I’m just saying from My basketball watching career from the time I was 6 (91 Finals and beyond) the Kobe/Shaq duo was the most dominating inside/outside I’ve seen. Now as a basketball enthusiast I’d wholeheartedly agree with your ranking of the teams.
10. I recall missing all prior preseason broadcasts due to work schedule and somehow turned on the TV a few minutes before he pulled that stunt. Prior, I had been excited for the team to have a shot at redemption after getting spanked. Once he started barking at Buss, all hopes deflated.
In a way, his absence made the Bryant/Gasol/Fisher championship runs strangely more accessible to me. It also brings a parallel question of how much grace Kobe will handle the latter phase of his career. Now I’m a bit more understanding of how young and warped these athletes are with the limited time, monumental pressure while under the constant scope of expectations.
Shaq’s verbiage tarnished some of my appreciation for what he brought to the game. However, he did help bring 3 championships allowing me to humiliate my Spurs-loving friends with regularity. “Cancun” is an apt comparison. But given the amount he ran his mouth, he was invariably going to say things that didn’t sit right.
anyone has a link for the game? thank you
it looks like the refs are going to protect wade like its 2006. at least that means Lebrick won’t get finals MVP. siiidekick
Watching these finals, makes me that much more disappointed that the Lakers aren’t in the finals!
Dallas sucks! I’m sick of hearing about Dirk’s off hand finger injury! Those same announcers never mentioned Kobe’s shooting hand finger problems! So sick of media bias!
I remember exactly where I was when that Kobe-Shaq alley-oop happened. I was at a family gathering where no one else was a hoops fan (ugh) . Call me an awful person, but like any good Laker fan when they are playing a game seven, I snubbed family for the game! (Good choice) I was the only person watching, on the edge of my seat, and it was worth celebrating. The people in the other room were probably wondering “what the heck is up with this dude?” Thank you, SHAQ!
Edwin Gueco says
What would happen to Shaq when he’s no longer the “news”? We often heard of players undergo depression when they’re no longer in the spotlight, they omit gym workouts, get into bad habits whether: late night outs, broken marriages, involvement in crime or get into drugs RX seeking for cure-all ailments. I hope he would listen to some advice from experts or consult his peers like Olajuwon, Horry, Divac or Greg Ostertag on how they spent their post NBA career.