As the Staples Center readies itself to commemorate Shaquille O’Neal with a 10 feet high statue outside its premises, we take a look back at the life of one of the game’s most feared and also beloved characters.
Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1972, “Shaq” or “The Diesel” as he is more affectionately known, was the most dominant center of his era. He won 4 NBA titles, 3 Finals MVP, 1 regular season MVP, 2 scoring titles, Rookie of the year among many other individual and team accolades. The Lakers team of the early 2000’s is widely regarded as one of the best the NBA has ever seen and had it not been for the fierce rivalry between him and Kobe Bryant, they might well have gone down in history as the greatest duo to ever play the game.
O’Neal played out his college career at LSU, before joining the NBA with the Orlando Magic in 1993. He combined with Penny Hardaway to take the Magic team to their first NBA Finals in 1995, only to lose out to Champions Houston Rockets. However, O’Neal with his rare skill set and size, had made his presence felt throughout the league. He won the scoring title in 1995 and looked set to dominate the game for the next decade. His greatness was recognized very early on by his peers, when he was included in the list of NBA’s 50 greatest players.
He then signed with Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, ushering in the era of ‘The Big Aristotle’ and the Lakers. He would bring in 3 championships and 4 Finals appearance in his time in California. Shaq was easily the most dominant player in the game at the time, and this was highlighted when he won another championship in Miami with Dwayne Wade.
O’Neal weighed over 300 pounds and was 7’1 tall. Never has the NBA seen a player of his size and athleticism. He is well renowned for his back board breaking dunks, something he did twice in his early career with Orlando. O’Neal was virtually unguardable at most times and teams had to resort to double teaming him to stop him from scoring. However, he also had good vision and passing ability, which helped him to find the open man whenever he got double teamed. He regularly led the league in rebounding, blocked shots, points and FG%.
Whenever O’Neal got the ball down low near the basket, it was curtains for the opposition. For all his domination, teams had to eventually develop a scheme known as the ‘Hack-A-Shaq’, where he would be intentionally fouled and made to go to the free throw line as he was a poor career free throw shooter. However in clutch situations, O’Neal delivered, which his 3 Finals MVP could attest to.
His career faded in the later stages of his career due to injury and age, and he played out his finals seasons with the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics but he never reached the same dizzying heights ever again.
Off the court, O’Neal has always been a very active personality, releasing multiple rap albums, taking part in movies as well as becoming a licensed police officer. Since retirement, he has become an NBA analyst and hosts the ever popular Shaqtin’ A Fool segment for TNT.
To put his domination in words would be an injustice and people will have to see it to believe it. Never has there been a player of that size, dominating the game the way he did. He was easily the best center in his time, and he can be credited as the person who forced the NBA to switch to the small ball and become the jump shooting league it has become today. Until next time, it’s adios to ‘The Big Daddy’.
Photo by Keith Allison