Shaquille O'Neal: basketball's larger-than-life big man calls it a career
Shaquille O'Neal, one of the most dominant centers in pro basketball history, announced his retirement Wednesday. Both on and off the court, he was an original not likely to be duplicated.
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He signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999 and won three consecutive NBA championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002. He was named MVP of the NBA Finals all three times and had the highest scoring average for a center in NBA Finals history. The Lakers have said they will retire his No. 34 jersey.Skip to next paragraph
After feuding with the Lakers’ other superstar, Kobe Bryant, O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004, winning a fourth NBA championship in 2006. He finished out his career with stints at the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics.
Yet his footprint on American culture was not confined only to the basketball court. Beginning in 1993, O'Neal began to compose music. He released five studio albums and one compilation album. One critic credited him with "progressing as a rapper in small steps, not leaps and bounds.” He also appeared in films such as “Blue Chips” and “Kazaam.”
It was O’Neal’s lopsided smile and outsize personality that helped him transcend sport off the court. “I think [ESPN columnist] Michael Wilbon said it best when he wrote that Shaq had an understanding that sports is showbiz and what his place is in that universe,” says Chris Corbellini, senior sports writer at The Daily, a web publication for the iPad, in an e-mail. “The guy may have been intimidating to a lot of NBA players, but fans will probably remember him for his smile and acting like a little kid in a giant’s body.” [Editor's note: Mr. Corbellini's quote has been corrected.]
In his final year, O’Neal failed to deliver the championship many in Boston had hoped for. But he ended up bringing the community together in a big way, according to Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University. As an example of his common touch, he once tweeted that he was headed for Harvard Square, where he sat quietly as a statue for one hour as fans took pictures with him (see video).
“He matured at each stop he made in the NBA and became a communal force here in Boston because he saw his place beyond basketball," says Mr. Lebowitz. "He showed us what humanity is all about, black, white, rich or poor.… It came with his maturation as a human being over the years.”