For 19 seasons, Shaquille O’Neal did it his way — right down to the retirement announcement.
The 7-foot-1, 325-pound (on a good day) center retired Wednesday via Tout, a new video social media platform.
“We did it, 19 years baby,” said O’Neal. “I want to thank you very much. That’s why I’m telling you first, I’m about to retire. Love ya, talk to you soon.”
It’s only fitting that the athlete with the most Twitter followers would break the news of his retirement via the Internet. Then again, nothing that the larger-than-life center does should surprise us when you look back at O’Neal’s career.
After three years of dominating the Southeastern Conference at LSU, the Orlando Magic selected O’Neal with the top overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft.
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There was no rookie curve for O’Neal, who transformed the Magic from Eastern Conference doormats to an NBA Finals contender in the span of three seasons.
Despite being the “big fish in a dried-up pond” in Orlando, O’Neal managed to pursue an acting and rap career. While nobody will ever claim that Kazaam was worthy of an Oscar nod or Shaq Diesel was actually a great rap record, the fact that O’Neal was able to transcend the basketball court at such a young age was impressive.
Only Michael Jordan had the marketability of O’Neal, who was making $17 million from Reebok and PepsiCo. by the age of 23 and eventually landed endorsement deals with Nestle, Radio Shack, Burger King, Verizon and Taco Bell.
Long before LeBron James and “The Decision,” O’Neal was the most influential free agent signing arguably in all of sports, signing a seven-year, $121 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996.
His departure from Orlando was the first of many bridges that were torched along the way during his professional career.
During the honeymoon period though, O’Neal had the ability to bring out the best in his teammates.”Penny” Hardaway, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade all benefited by playing alongside O’Neal.
In today’s guard-centric style of play, O’Neal is the last of the NBA’s dominant big men that has the ability to carry a team single-handily on his back.
When O’Neal would throw his head coach or teammate under the bus or divorced his wife for Flavor Flav’s leftovers, his lighthearted humor and four NBA Championships helped get him off the hook in the eye of the public and media. You can find your share of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant haters, but good luck finding a group of basketball fans that openly despised Shaq.
The warning signs that O’Neal’s career was on the decline reared its ugly head following his fourth NBA Championship in 2006 with the Miami Heat. O’Neal played in only 101 games during the next three seasons before a resurgence in 2008-09 with the Phoenix Suns.
Sadly, that resurgence provided O’Neal with a false sense of hope. Deep down inside, O’Neal knew he was a shell of his former self. In an attempt to win one last title (and naturally rub it in Kobe Bryant’s face), O’Neal settled on reserve roles with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics before his body eventually gave out on him.
While he won’t go down as the greatest center of all-time, you can make a case that O’Neal is behind only the likes of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the best big man to play the game.
Nobody is going to miss O’Neal more than NBA commissioner David Stern.
The NBA sorely lacks another charismatic personality like O’Neal. If you thought O’Neal’s antics as a rapper and actor were corny, just imagine Dwight Howard in the same role. Need I say more?
“He’s a giant,” Stern said Wednesday at the NBA Finals in Miami. “He’s physically imposing; he has an imposing smile. In the game, he imposed his will, and he has done it for quite a long time. It’s been a great run here, and we’re going to miss him greatly. We hope we can find ways to keep him involved in the game.”
What’s next for O’Neal? He’s done it all — from law enforcement to reality television — all while juggling a day job of playing in the NBA. The king of the self-imposed nicknames could have a new title in the coming months.
“If all goes well, I will be Dr. Shaquille O’Neal in December or January,” O’Neal said on SportsCenter. “That’s my main focus right now, but, you know, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. I’m a business man. I own a couple of businesses. But right now I guess I could sit and take care of my body, get my body back.”
Whatever career path O’Neal pursues, you can guarantee “The Big 401K” will do it on his own terms.