It’s sometimes nice to take a break from the Lakers’ current woes and remember better times. Today is one of those days with the news that Shaquille O’Neal will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.
While Shaq played for 7 teams, he will be most remembered for his time with the Magic (who drafted him), the Heat (where he won a championship in 2006), and the Lakers where he spent more years than any other franchise and had his most success both as an individual and with a team.
But if you ask any Lakers’ fan, they will always think of Shaq as a Laker first and foremost.
In his 8 years with the Lakers, Shaq won his only league MVP, won 3 championships and 3 Finals MVP’s, was 1st Team All-NBA 6 times, and earned his only All-Defensive Team bids (2nd team three times). The Lakers enjoyed peak Shaq and I, for one, will never forget it.
People often look back to the summer of 1996 as the year the Lakers got Kobe AND Shaq, noting the amazing haul of getting two players of that caliber at the same time. But if we’re being completely honest, that summer was really about Shaq. Kobe being the first preps-to-pros guard and the potential he oozed was obviously a big deal, but Shaq was already that guy. He was in the Finals two years prior and was in the Conference Finals months before coming to the Lakers.
The Lakers were getting one of the best players in the league and he was only 24 years old. When I look back at that picture of Shaq holding his Lakers’ jersey at his introductory press conference while standing next to Jerry West, I still get chills. That picture, at the time and now, signals a leap forward in organizational prospects. It represents the raising of the team’s ceiling from fun playoff team to potential championship contender.
Which is exactly what they became. It took the growth of Kobe and the bringing in of Phil Jackson, but those early 2000’s Lakers were the realization of dreams which started when Shaq signed with the team. Yes there were disappointments both before an after those runs, but the highs achieved during that period will live with me forever. And none of it happens without Shaq.
So I will forever be grateful for the big fella. He didn’t always do things the way I’d like and I wish some of the team dynamics (which don’t just fall on him) would have been different — especially during his last couple of seasons with the team. But those feelings pale in comparison and lasting effect to the ones I have for all the good which came from him deciding in 1996 he would join the Lakers.