Ho, ho, ho…
He was huge, he was round but no, he wasn’t Fat Albert, even if there was enough of a resemblance for Dallas owner Mark Cuban to put him on their scoreboard screen with the Lakers in town.
Not that Shaquille O’Neal, whose sense of humor was one of his best attributes, minded. He was laughing as much as anyone.
Yes, it was Shaq. The Lakers’ big fond memory, returning to the Staples Center he helped build in the flesh, all 350 pounds of it, to have his No. 34 jersey retired and remind everyone of better times.
Happily for the Lakers, Shaq’s exits from Orlando and Miami were messier than his departure from the Lakers. This means, as Kobe Bryant noted, he could still be remembered as one of them!
Unfortunately, nostalgia cuts both ways, especially when the times are getting more uncertain by the day.
Fans drowned out Phil Jackson’s tribute to O’Neal, chanting, “we want Phil,” to which a grinning Shaq added, “I want Phil, too,” obliging Mike D’Antoni to pretend it wasn’t a javelin to his heart (“He only won 58 rings, why wouldn’t they?”)
Then there were Shaq and Dwight Howard, the ghosts of Laker centers past and present.
If bygones usually become bygones at such occasions–Kobe Bryant recorded a warm video, congratulating his old sparring partner–it didn’t mean Shaq had to stop zinging-er, challenging Dwight.
Actually, O’Neal has been challenging Howard since Dwight arrived in Orlando, which Shaq once owned and where he still has a home.
Howard expressed his disdain, fashioning himself as a new-age anti-Shaq, down to crossing the Lakers off his list of destinations, in part to avoid following in his footsteps.
Asked Tuesday if he thought the Lakers would win more titles, O’Neal said, “the other guy”–Howard–“needs to step into his own.”
“I would like to see him average 28 and 10. That’s the number that was thrown in my face, 28-10, so that’s the number I’m always going to throw in his face. I’m not criticizing the guy, I’m just issuing a challenge. I see a kid with a lot of talent. When I see him averaging 16 or 18, that’s not enough for me.”
Okay, if it’s not totally gracious for him to be the one pointing it out, Dwight’s barely a mosquito bite on Shaq’s XXXL backside.
If Shaq was hardly as refined as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dwight is hardly as refined as Shaq.
Dwight is an extraordinarily athletic big man, measured in stocking feet at 6-9, 240 in the 2004 pre-draft camp.
Shaq was a mountain when they measured him at 7-1, 303 in 1992, who went on to resemble an entire range, playing at upwards of 350.
After the Lakers won their second title in a row in 2001, Shaq, who had ballooned alarmingly, vowed to come in the next season at 300.
He turned up closer to 400. His weight was a closely-guarded secret but he looked like he was 375 in these scenes from the Lakers’ tribute video.
If it was lugubrious fun for Lakerdom, coupled with a win over Dallas that pulled the team back into a tie for No. 8, it also recalled when giants wearing Laker purple and gold walked the Earth.
Before the opening tip of the 2000 Finals, Indiana GM Donnie Walsh was dismayed to find he couldn’t even see his center, Dale Davis, who was standing behind Shaq.
Then there was Kobe, the post-teen with the force of will that made him as dominating as, and incompatible with Shaq.
Now the Lakes have mini-giants or old ones.
Kobe’s still great but at 34, he’s back dropping hints about retiring.
(Yes, it’s for public consumption. No, I guarantee you he hasn’t made up his mind–and won’t until he sees who they can put around him in a year.)
Before the Lakers worry about Dwight approaching Shaq’s level, they have to see if he’ll consent to sign with them.
(I’d say yes, based on the overwhelming feeling of insiders who say he won’t kiss off that extra $30 mil.)
Then it would be nice if they could teach Dwight to run a pick-and-roll right, so they could try it more than three or four times a game.
Not that Shaq ran it so great, either.
With great hands, great feet and his massive body, throwing the ball to him was like lobbing it onto the deck of an aircraft carrier.
I once asked Jackson if Shaq and Kobe were the best pick-and-roll tandem he had ever seen.
“They might be, if I could ever get them to run it,” growled Phil.
Hey, they were Shaq and Kobe. They could do it any way they damn well pleased, for as long as they wanted to, which turned out to be eight seasons.
If you—and they—didn’t realize it, they were special, just especially dysfunctional.
Laker fans hoping to see something like that again in their lifetime had better be very young Laker fans.
In case you missed it, be sure to check out Shaq’s jersey retirement press conference!
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