Shaquille O’Neal was not always the most dominating, but always the most fun
There goes the best farewell.
There goes the funniest there ever was.
Let me get this straight, the NBA is going to have a season (not even David Stern has said they’ll shut down forever) and Shaquille O’Neal won’t be an Orlando prodigy who blocks out the sun ... or in Los Angeles as the life of the party ... or Miami to get a last ring ... or Phoenix for a last appearance alongside Kobe Bryant as All-Star co-MVPs ... or Cleveland, where he didn’t quite get “a ring for the King” ... or Boston, where he became as Bostonian as Samuel Adams, the statesman or the beer, conducting the Boston Pops, posing as a statue outside Harvard Yard?
Some fun that will be.
Of course, when Shaq hung them up Wednesday, at 39, after 19 seasons, he often looked like a statue, averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20 minutes for the Celtics this season.
Of course, he was their starter until he was hurt in February, and would have been again if he had come back.
Nevertheless, if he personally crowned himself MDE — the most dominating ever — he was, at least for a few seasons.
Wilt Chamberlain played against Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played against Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing.
By the middle of Shaq’s career, the Age of Giants had become the Age of Giant, and he was it.
In the real distinction between him and everyone else, he was the giant who kept the NBA laughing.
He was a joke waiting to happen with his nicknames (Big Aristotle, Big Pythagorean Theorem, Shaq-fu, Diesel) and one-liners (“I’m tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok.”)
He didn’t have to say a word, like the night in the Lakers’ locker room when he pulled on John Stockton’s short shorts, over his huge backside, on camera.
“He was outrageous,” said Phil Jackson, whose job it was to keep Shaq’s mind on the game.
“When he was in a good mood, he kept everybody happy.”
When he wasn’t, you knew why the Lakers coaches also called him the Big Moody.
Lakers people used to say Shaq, who was 24 when he met Kobe Bryant, was the kid, and Kobe, who was 18, the grownup.
It was true, at least as far as basketball went.
Kobe’s life was preparing for the game, training, practicing, lifting, studying film, nutrition ...
Shaq told teammates when he won his first title, he’d come back the next fall at 400 pounds, and didn’t miss by much.
At Shaq’s best, there may, indeed, have been no one as dominating.
In the 1999-2000 season, he came within a single vote of becoming the first unanimous MVP.
Boston General Manager Danny Ainge said Shaq and Kobe were like the answer to the question, what would happen if Michael Jordan played with Wilt?
I once mentioned how devastating Shaq and Kobe were in pick-and-rolls to Jackson.
“Too bad I can’t get them to run it,” Phil said
Think about it: Shaq comes out to set a pick, then rolls to the basket, hoping Kobe will throw it to him?
Shaq preferred backing his defender under the hoop, waving his arms and daring Kobe to ignore him.
If they won three titles, they left a few on the table with one so goofy, one on his own planet and both forcing the Lakers to split them up in 2004 when Shaq was 32 and Kobe 26.
Press favorite that he was, Shaq wasn’t easy to cover. Being a little on the sensitive, or insecure side, he often went weeks without talking.
Of course, by the playoffs, he’d be in the interview room, charming everyone’s socks off, writing their stories.
Every season the Lakers writers would beg friends not to put him on the All-Interview team.
Every season they would ignore us.
Shaq even messed with us when he talked — a technique he called “Shamming,” for “Short Answer Method” — sitting on the stool in front of his cubicle, murmuring in low tones.
If you weren’t in his lap, you had to reach over people, point your recorder in his direction, go back to the press room and see if it picked up anything.
Tim Brown, one of The Times’ beat writers, called it “Shaq Surprise.”
Hey, there are lots of pains, but few authentic greats.
Marlon Brando had an eccentricity or two, but we have “On the Waterfront” to remember him by.
Shaquille O’Neal gave us 19 years of tons of fun.
Without him, it will never be the same.
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