Superman Shaq Diesel Shaq-Fu Kazaam The Big Aristotle Shaqovitch The Big 401k Shaqtus The Big Shamrock The Big AARP’s retirement means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To whatever degree you follow basketball, over the last 19 years, Shaq has probably touched your life in one way or another.
Michael Jordan undoubtedly defined an era of basketball, some might say even the sport as a whole, but those of us raised in the 90s, during the height of Jordan’s dominance really only remember the tail end of his career. Depending on how far back you can remember, maybe 3 of the 6 rings are fresh in our minds. By the time we were consciously watching basketball, or even aware that basketball was going on around us, Michael had already cemented his dominance as the greatest of all time.
On the other side of that coin, is Shaq. Coming into the league in 1992, Shaq’s career grew with us, from coming in to Orlando as a much-heralded rookie, to winning titles in his prime with LA, to the Heat, to the twilight of his career, drifting from team to team with varying degrees of success, but never quite enough. There are some strong childhood’s end metaphors that maybe only I feel and going into in-depth might be out of place in a piece like this, but at least the chronology lines up right.
Ask anyone over the age of 40 to list the top ten players of all time and 75% of their list will probably be centers. Shaq’s retirement marks the true end of an era in the National Basketball Association: the age of the big, dominant center, the age the pivot man catching passes under the basket and scoring in the post on one end, and playing lockdown defense on the other.
Really, the transition is far less clear and has been slowly happening over the course of the last two decades as the league has become more and more focused on guards and forwards specializing in jump-shooting or slashing from the perimeter, but until his retirement, Shaq had been the last of the dying breed, and is a name that comes up immediately in any discussion regarding the most dominant centers (and even players) of all time.
This one goes both ways. Nobody keeps track of a stat like this but Shaq is probably number one on the list of sports personalities who have provided great soundbites over the years. Shaq’s relationship in the media, in postgame interviews, in press conferences and beyond the court has always been unique. The trajectory of Shaq’s career probably has him destined to go down the path of the analyst, and probably be extremely successful at it. Shaq even mentioned it himself in his requirement press conference how willing he was to work in the press box, so really for everything the media is losing here, there are gains to be made as well.
Or, more specifically, Dwight Howard. Howard was referenced twice during Shaq’s retirement press conference, once in an indirect, joking sort of manner and once in a much more serious context. Shaq challenged Dwight to win three or four titles, saying he would be personally disappointed if he didn’t. Dwight’s career is still comparatively young, but his similarities to Shaq are undeniable. If Shaq was the last of the dominant centers, Dwight is now the odd man out in a league of guards and forwards.
It’s obvious that Shaq sees a lot of himself in Dwight, and wants him to succeed, perhaps as an extension of himself more than anything. From the battling over the ownership of the “Superman” nickname to the personal challenge to win a title, Dwight Howard and every superstar center that comes into the league in the future will be compared against and follow in the footsteps of Shaquille O’Neal
There are only a handful of players about which you can say that the game of basketball will never see another like them. Shaquille O’Neal is one of those players.