The idea of Shaquille O'Neal is too immense to grasp. You can't wrap your head around it, and you would need three people holding hands to wrap their arms around him.
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Shaquille O'Neal stood 7’1” and weighed 325 pounds on his good days. That is huge beyond the concept of huge which people carry in their minds. His personality was every bit as large as the man himself. In whatever he chose to pursue or involve himself in, he made a splash as big as a whale would make upon plopping in a swimming pool.
The four time NBA Champion is unquestionably among the top ten players of all time, but it wasn't just about the numbers with Shaq. On his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, here are 5 things I'll miss about Shaq's playing days and why there will never be another like him:
#1 Unmatched statistics: The Shaqistician
Imagine a bunch of ten-year-olds playing basketball in their backyard on a nerf hoop. Now put a grown man without a conscience in their midst and watch the carnage ensue.
Throughout his career, Shaq averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. But those numbers don't reflect the dominance of his prime, as they are diluted by his stops in Miami/Phoenix/Cleveland/Boston.
Shaq's most dominant stretches were with the Los Angles Lakers and the Orlando Magic. In his 4 seasons with the Magic, he averaged 27.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.8 blocks per game while shooting 58.1 % from the field. Keep in mind that this was during an era of strong centers in the NBA.
In Orlando, Shaq was coming into his own and getting a feel for the NBA game. However, he was able to unleash his true potential under the tutelage of Phil Jackson and with Kobe Bryant helping provide one of the most effective one-two punches of all time.
In his 8 seasons with the Lakers, Shaq averaged he averaged 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 57.5% from the field. But the best prism to view Shaq's statistical dominance would be the big stage of the NBA Finals with the Lakers.
In 2000, going up against Indiana Pacers, Shaq averaged 38 points and 16.7 rebounds while shooting 61.1% from the field. How in the world are you supposed to eke out a victory when facing such a colossus?
Next year against the Philadelphia 76ers, Shaq put up 33 points and 15.8 rebounds per game. He faced the then reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Dikembe Mutumbo and averaged 3 points fewer than his previous NBA Finals.
The following year, Shaq annihilated the New Jersey Nets in 2002 NBA Finals by averaging 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. In all three series, Shaq won the NBA Finals MVP honors, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest of all time.
#2 The nicknames: The Big Bistower
Some players choose to go quietly about their business. Names like John Stockton and Tim Duncan come to mind. There are those reluctant about tooting their own horn, the ones who prefer to let their game do the talking.
Then there is Shaq. If Shaq put all his self-bestowed nicknames on different cars, he'd own a small fleet. Here are just some of the nicknames he's given to himself throughout his career:
MDE (Most Dominant Ever)/Superman/Shaq Fu/The Big Aristotle/The Big Shamrock/The Big Banana/The Big Daddy/The Big Shaqtus/Wilt Chamberneazy/The Big Maravich/Shaqovic/The Big IPO/The Big Cactus/The Big Banana/Mayor McShaq/The Real Deal/Manny Shaq-iaou/Hobo Master/The Big eQuotatious/The Big Galactus/The Big Field General/Diesel/The Big Conductor/Dr. Shaq/The Big Twitterer/Witness Protection.
Safe to say no other player in the Hall of Fame or the league has ever had such an expressive roster of names, and there probably won't be another as well. Shaq also immortalized a number of other nicknames for other players, some flattering and some less so.
He nicknamed Tim Duncan, The Big Fundamental for his sound fundamentals. Dwyane Wade earned the moniker The Flash for his blinding quickness. And in 2001, when the Lakers lost 112-107 to the Boston Celtics thanks to Paul Pierce's 42 points, Shaq picked a Boston reporter and told him, “Paul Pierce is the m***********g truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out."
All those nicknames stuck, and the players are well known by it and probably thankful to Shaq for such cool names. Except Tim Duncan, he’d probably be equally thrilled to be called The Prudent Accountant.
#3 The “Rim reaper”
"I jam it, I slam it, I make sure it's broke." Shaq rapped.
Rookies come into the league looking to make a big splash. Some make it to the all-star game or win Rookie of the Year award and feel that they've made it. Shaq did both of those things, but he did more than make a splash.
Why splash like a peaceful puddle sinking in a pond when you can rain down holy flames on the basket and shatter the only solid structure on the court? In his rookie season itself, Shaq tore down two rims with no regard for human life, or his own.
In the 1992-93 NBA season, Shaq tore down the rim against the New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns giving the audience more than their money's worth. To all the basket stanchions in support group therapy after being battered by Kevin Garnett, they ought to say a prayer of thanks to Shaquille O'Neal. It was his battering which made led to stronger stanchions.
After Shaq's rookie season, the NBA added additional steel brace strength and stability of the backboard to guard against the hoop from falling down like the London Bridge. If a man can do that to the basket when he's applying some level of finesse to guide the ball in, what would he do to the puny humans who would attempt to get in his way to the rim when he's bulldozing down the paint?
4. The utter dominance: Domishaqtrix
Raw, primal dominance. Shaq did everything to firmly establish his reign in the paint short of marking his territory in a primal way. After he called out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for not reaching out to mentor him, Kareem reiterated that Shaq's game was less finesse and more raw power, and he felt that Shaq didn't really need a hand.
That underscores Shaq's offensive prowess, that the all-time leader in the NBA in points scored would feel that Shaq doesn't really need to learn anything from him. It also glosses over the skills Shaq had in the post. He had a soft baby hook that he could launch over the defense from outside the paint as well. And his rumbling spin moves would resemble a meat grinder tearing into anything in its path.
In his prime, there was absolutely nobody who could challenge Shaq. The game plan to account for him would usually be a team effort to frantically try and deny him the ball, and say one's prayers. Or to let him do the damage one on one and limit the rest of the team, hoping for the best. Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming were the only players who could stand tall to him one on one whilst the likes of Ben Wallace, Tim Duncan and Alonzo Mourning came close as well.
Shaq's dominance, in fact, forced Don Nelson to get innovative and come up with Hack a Shaq, fouling him and sending him to the free-throw line where he was a career 52.7 % shooter. He's almost unanimously acknowledged as the top three most dominant offensive players of all time along with Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
His blend of size, strength and athleticism were a nuclear mix exploding in the paint. His career field goal percentage of 58.2 % gives an indication of how utterly dominant he was inside.
Here's a look at Shaq annihilating the Clippers with 61 points 28 rebounds on his birthday:
#5 Larger than life
The greatest centers of all time had aloof personalities. Bill Russell was statesmanlike, Wilt Chamberlain had a huge and fragile ego, and so on. Shaq was perhaps the first big man who was that good on the court and approachable off it. He has one of the most disarming personalities the league has ever seen.
On the court, Shaq was vicious and sneering. He'd want to rip your heart out and stomp on it. However, he also had a clownish side to him, one which would have all those around him in stitches. Despite being smart as tack, he'd feign ignorance of big words and portray himself as an affable and happy go lucky guy.
When Shaq was fined $5,000 for wearing short shorts, he came into the locker room trying to wear tight 32 inch John Stockton style shorts around his 54-inch waist. Amidst his comical attempt, he said "Are these better, Stern?" referring to the then NBA commissioner David Stern.
Big men typically don't have a wide assortment of elegant moves, but Shaq could move it with the best of them. LeBron James had been leading his team in elaborate pre-game rituals and dances for ages. Dwight Howard prides himself on being a cheerful fella who can break into an impromptu jig at a moment's notice. But neither of them were a match for Shaq's moves.
Shaq's impact went way beyond the court and out in the neighborhoods where he played Santa Claus absent a filming crew. It wasn't uncommon for him to load up on toys in his trunk and distribute them to the deserving. He'd call himself Shaquaclaus and celebrate ‘Shaqsgiving’ by distributing food to the less fortunate.
Shaq was preparing for his days after retirement from an early age. He got an MBA in 2004 and a Doctorate in Education in 2012. He also became a reserve police officer and helped the police in patrolling.
He is now an analyst on Inside the NBA on TNT and continues to entertain and educate his fans. Safe to say, there will never be another player like Shaquille O'Neal for decades to come, if ever at all that is.