Shaquille O'Neal is getting immortalized in front of Staples Center, leading to a set-in-stone question — how much more bronze, metal and granite can the area accommodate?
O'Neal will be the eighth statue on the "Star Plaza," and Kobe Bryant will surely be the ninth some day, but Staples Center officials aren't worried about a lack of real estate. Their planning started before the building opened in 1999.
"We knew we were going to 'retire' quite a few NHL and NBA greats, and when I did the plans for the entire project, I showed the city planners that there would at least be 15 statues in and around Staples Center," said Lee Zeidman, president of Staples Center, Microsoft Theater and L.A. Live.
O'Neal will join a bevy of others in front of the arena: Lakers players Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and broadcaster Chick Hearn; Kings players Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille; and boxer Oscar de la Hoya.
These things aren't small: Abdul-Jabbar's statue is about 16 feet tall and weighs 1,500 pounds.
Staples Center pays half the statue costs and the individual team pays the other half. The price ranges from $85,000 to $125,000, depending on the design and base.
The addition of the L.A. Live campus in 2008 gave the three Staples Center tenants more space if the arena plaza became too crowded, Zeidman said.
"The sky's the limit as it relates to any Kings, Lakers or Clipper players that the teams want to do statues of," Zeidman said.
O'Neal's statue will be suspended above the ground and show him dunking in a powerful crouched position, according to an early sketch of it.
The center with the thunderous game and too-many-to-count nicknames, seemed genuinely surprised when late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel broke the news to him Wednesday on the air.
"Seriously? No way. Really?" O'Neal said.
A statement from Lakers president Jeanie Buss confirmed it.
"We look forward to having Shaq join the other legends who have been honored with statues at Staples Center," she said. "He is a giant not only in size, but also in stature and in what he accomplished as a Laker. Shaq literally broke the ground for the site, and was hugely responsible for not only getting Staples Center built, but for making it one of the most successful and famous arenas in the world. It's an honor that is well-deserved."
Before the surprise, O'Neal told Kimmel he already decided which team he would represent if inducted into the Hall of Fame later this year.
"I'll probably go in as a Laker," O'Neal said, drawing an immense cheer from the studio audience.
O'Neal is expected to be a first-ballot inductee after winning four championships as a player — three with the Lakers and one with Miami. He was the NBA Finals MVP in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and the regular-season MVP in 2000. He played for six teams in his 19-year career.
At the induction ceremony, O'Neal said he would want Johnson and Julius "Dr. J" Erving to make speeches on his behalf, as well as his coach at LSU, Dale Brown.