On a day that was supposed to focus around reactions to Game 1 of the NBA Finals one man stole the spotlight as he has so many times in his legendary career. Shaquille O’Neal announced via Twitter that he is retiring from the NBA after spending 19 years on the court. During his time in the league O’Neal played the role of entertainer as well as basketball star, and became a character that was larger than life.
With O’Neal’s illustrious career now at an end it’s only fair to look back at the impact he made on the league and the legacy he left. As the league transforms more and more into a league dominated by guards and wing players, it’s safe to say that O’Neal may go down in history as the last of the great big men. But his legacy is so much more than that.
There is no way to question O’Neal’s numerous accomplishments on the court. He won four NBA championships during his career, and is widely considered the most dominant big man in league history. But his attitude on the court wasn’t what made him one of the most lovable characters in sports. Whether he was bashing opposing players or coaches, or giving himself a new nickname, whenever O’Neal was in front of the microphone it was impossible not to listen.
As his career progressed he began to transition from basketball player to entertainer more and more. As is the case with any professional athlete, O’Neal’s production began to decline as he got older and his body could no longer take the beating it once could. But that never diminished his spirit, or his appearances in the All-Star Game. Despite declining numbers the fans regularly voted Shaq into the game because of the entertainment factor. And the big Aristotle never disappointed. Whether it was break dancing with the Jabbawockeez or dribbling between the legs in point guard fashion, O’Neal shined the brightest when all the lights were on him.
After 19 years in the league there is an entire generation of fans that will experience the NBA without O’Neal for the first time. Just as Phil Jackson’s retirement was before him, Shaq’s departure from the game signifies a changing of the guard. While there will always be other players that capture our attention with their spectacular moves and unbelievable accomplishments. But it’s safe to say there will never be another player quite like Shaquille O’Neal. And though it is a melancholy goodbye, there is no doubt that the NBA is better because of the big fella’.