I still remember watching the press conference and not really believing what I was seeing. There was Jerry West standing next to a 24 year old and in his prime Shaquille O’Neal, posing for pictures after announcing he had signed with the Lakers. The entire thing seemed surreal.
Before Kobe was Kobe, Shaq was the savior. The Lakers had recovered from the Magic Johnson HIV announcement 4 years prior to build a winning team. They saw their win totals rise from 33 to 43 to 53 the three previous seasons to his arrival and then West, in all his mastery, carved out cap space and opened up the starting C spot (by trading Vlade to the Hornets for the rights to Kobe) to make his run at Shaq. After finally getting the game’s best young big man to sign on the dotted line, West almost looked more relieved than happy. He knew the Lakers were really back.
It took some time for things to settle in just right, though. Good but not great regular seasons turned into good but not great playoff runs. I know regular season win totals in the high 50’s and low 60’s and playoff runs to the Conference Semis and Conference Finals are nothing to scoff at, but the Lakers brought in Shaq to make a return to the championship glory not to have their season(s) end in post season sweep(s) as they did in ’98 and again in ’99.
Then, as you know, Phil Jackson came on board, Kobe became Kobe, and the rest is history.
But Shaq was the catalyst to that history. I will always give Kobe his credit for his massive contributions to the early aughts 3-peat — the 4th Q and OT game vs. Indy on a sprained ankle, the massive road performances against the Spurs and Kings, the overall and all-court brilliance against…well, everyone. But the Lakers were Shaq’s team. He was as unstoppable a player as I’ve ever seen. A giant with quick feet, a brute with a soft touch, a blunt force object with deceptive counters. He ran roughshod over a league ill-equipped to deal with such a player and carried home the hardware as proof.
And today, the Lakers will celebrate his career in the forum blue and gold by raising a Shaqtue, as I’m sure he would call it. The pose will be a familiar one, with the man called The Diesel dunking the ball home with two hands, legs raised up to emphasize the dominance.
There was no one like him either on or off the court. And while his time in Los Angeles didn’t end as well as it should have, amends have been made and the past can now be reflected on and given it’s proper due. Shaq was a Laker great and today we celebrate that with him. Thanks for the memories, big fella.
david h says
Thank you Darius for the heads up. I’m hoping we get to see the Big Humble today. The who’s who of Laker basketball and fandom will be there to honor the man who helped the Lakers win three championships back in the early 2000’s…..a special evening for sure.
Thank you Jeannie Buss.
A great player that didn’t take himself or the entertainment industry that he played in too seriously.
My favorite Shaq games were any against David Robinson. He was awesome in the way he would punish Robinson, slamming into his body while he dribbled and backed him down before dunking on him. I only got to see the older version of Wilt and not the younger one who ran fast breaks in his early years. That makes Shaq the biggest, strongest, and most graceful athlete I have ever seen on the court.
I saw Wilt score 72 in my first Laker game. The lakers won, thanks to 30 from Elgin Baylor and 49 from Jerry West. And they stopped all the other Warriors. Shaq dominated the middle. For years, Wilt dominated the league. I remain convinced that both would be powerhouses in today’s NBA.
But I love Shaq’s personality, love his droll humor and remember fondly his standard postgame interview: “We won because my teammates got me the ball when I was open, and I was able to get the ball to my teammates when I was covered, and they executed.”
Shaq gets his day and his statue, and they are so very well deserved.
A great read on Julius.
Huh? Did I miss something here? This is a thread about a real player not some “Gonna Be”. Random dude really random! We were talking about an NBA HOF’er and you post about some kid that has not even figured it out yet. Randle is ok only seems to show up against teams that do not play defense kind of like himself. We need him to show up every game and to be a man in the paint. This was a thread about someone who was a “Man down low” from day one buddy. But I guess many of you have forgotten what that is like. This league has turned into Euro-Ball and it is sickening to watch. Bet half of these coaches would want Shaq to launch 3’s or sit him because he could not space the floor… insanity rules the league right now.
The kid is special. This is the right move.
George Best says
As great as he was he’s really just a what if legacy. It used to be injuries or drugs that placed a player in this category but he’s leading an expanding group of players who fall into it because of ego and me first attitudes.
This is the most ridiculous comment ever. Shaq is a “what if”? Really, tell that to the league that he terrorized for years. Quite sure you have “what if’s” in your life I know I do. Shaq was awesome plain and simple and he is the reason you see the BS brand of basketball in the league today. No team could match up with him so they would try to go small to counter his dominance. Also, I do not recall Shaq’s ego getting in the way ever if that was the case I do not believe all those who came out to pay homage to the man would have showed. Most say he is the best teammate ever and has always been well liked. There is no doubt the Lakers mishandled Shaq and if kept together the Shaq/Kobe paring could have gotten a couple more rings. His statue is overdue because it was he “Shaq” who took a leap of faith on a fringe playoff team and brought banners back to the Lakers… How dare you diminish his contributions! We can only hope he decides to enter the Hall wearing the Forum Blue and Gold! We have some making up to do because he was treated really well in Miami and I’m sure it is a toss up right now.
The league (and, possibly, the Lakers) was fortunate Shaq never…
A) Took basketball as seriously as hyper-competitive maniacs like Kobe and Michael Jordan
B) Learned to consistently shoot a high FT%
Had he done so, Shaq likely would have rewritten all the record books, and there would have been no way the Orlando Magic would ever had let him go in free agency.
Other than Wilt Chamberlain, I don’t think the NBA ever saw someone as physically dominant as Shaq. Only conditioning/injury issues (and massive amounts of fouling) kept Shaq from complete NBA domination. There were times (e.g. the NBA Finals against New Jersey in 2002) where Shaq versus the NBA seemed like The Incredible Hulk vs. mere mortals.
Congratulations on your honorary statue, Shaq.
Thanks to Shaq for the championships and all the memories.
“Can You Dig It”
Rick in Seattle says
Shaq hurt himself with his immature personal attack on the owner Dr Jerry Buss. Regardless of your opinion of Buss, a player (any player) does not publically insult an owner and then expect a big payday. Shaq crippled himself and his career with his own immature behavior.
Whoever his agent was at the time should also have been fired! Now, Shaq is a big hero with a statue!
Horsepucky! If he has been less of an ass, he & Kobe could have gone on to win 3 more titles together!
His enourmous ego (and lack of common sense) led to his shortened career. To paraphrase a famous quote, “He coulda been a contenda”! As it was he had a good career but it could have been so much better if he & Kobe could have coexisted & cooperated a little more!
I remember Mark Heisler’s columns describing Shag on on roads trips decimating all of the elite centers in the league; Robinson, Ewing, Mourning…total domination, not even close. Still, he wasn’t near as dominating or consistent as Kareem, the most dominant player in the history of the league.