The Big Aristotle quietly makes a Big Decision


During an era when every athlete screams for media attention and makes a spectacle of their careers, media loving Shaquille O’Neal shows a restrained class not often seen in today’s sports world. Shaq gracefully retired from a Hall of Fame career Wednesday afternoon without fan fair or media attention. A persistent Achilles tendon injury he suffered earlier this year would prove to be too difficult for him to overcome.

Shaquille could have announced a “Shaq Retirement Tour” for the 2011-2012 season, playing one last NBA season to soak up the attention and adoration of fans across the NBA and no one would’ve cared; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it. He could have placed himself in an ESPN retirement special (ala LeBron James) and captured one last moment of attention on his Hall of Fame career. Instead the charismatic center, arguably one of the most physically dominate players to ever play in the NBA, posted his retirement on Twitter. In a 16 second video tweet “The Diesel” said, “We did it. 19 years, baby. Thank you very much. That’s why I’m telling you first. I’m about to retire. Love you. Talk to you soon.”

Shaquille’s accomplishments:

1992 1st overall pick by the Orlando Magic

1992-1993 NBA Rookie of the Year

15 All-Star selections

8 All-NBA 1st Team selections

2 NBA scoring titles

3 NBA All-Defensive Team selections

3 Finals MVP Awards

1 NBA MVP Award

4 time NBA Champion

5th on the all-time scoring list (28,596 pts)

12th on the all-time rebounding list (13,099)

2nd on the career field goal percentage (.582)

Reading the list of accomplishments reads like a really impressive career. Looking back, did he have a great career or did he grossly underachieve? Perhaps a little bit of both?

How could anyone say Shaq Fu underachieved? His personal stats show his best consecutive years were his rookie and sophomore seasons with the Orlando Magic. During his 2000 MVP season with the Lakers, Shaq was a beast averaging 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 3 blocks per game. The 1993-1994 season, his second in the NBA, was his second best season averaging 29.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 2.8 blocks per game… How much did he really improve over the course of his career?

Let’s give a little credit where credit is due. The early ‘90’s were a tough time in the paint for a NBA center. Legends like Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson protected the rim and his “Air-ness”, Michael Jordan, was unbeatable. Yet Shaq was able to carve a niche for himself as a dominate center, more due to his size (7’ 1”) and weight (325) than his basketball skills; Hakeem Olajuwon was listed at 7’ and 255 lbs. Once theJordanera ended and the Hall of Fame centers retired, Shaq’s stats never vastly improved. Regardless of who was put on the floor against him, he was going to get 20 plus points and 10 rebounds per game, but that’s it. He never averaged over 30 points per game in any of his NBA seasons and only averaged over 13 rebounds per game three times. Missing from his career accomplishment list is a rebounding title.

“The Big Aristotle” benefited fromJordan’s retirement in 1998 (let’s not count MJ’s time with the Wizards through 2001-2003) by winning 3 straight NBA Championships from 2000-2003. But who was Shaq’s competition in the paint? The only other dominate “center” was power forward Tim Duncan. If Yao Ming could walk from the locker room to the scorer’s table without getting hurt I would count him. There was no one his equal, and no dominate teams to challenge him. Yet it seems he still underachieved.

Tim Donaghy’s role as a referee during the Lakers’ 3 year run taints his accomplishments as well. The rings and trophies say Los Angeles Lakers but how much help did they get from the officiating crew? Anyone remember Kobe Bryant elbowing Sacramento Kings guard Doug Christie in the face and Doug Christie getting called for the foul?

By the 2003-2004 season, his 12th season in the NBA, Shaq’s career was on a dramatic downslide. He would never average more than 23 points a game the rest of his career and only post 3 seasons above 20 points per game. He would also only post one more season (Heat 2004-2005) with 10 plus rebounds per game. The days of being a physically dominate center were gone. His role was that of promise and no delivery.

Once Shaq leftMiami, it seemed he was chasing NBA titles as a gun for hire. He leftMiamiand joined the Phoenix Suns halfway through the 2007-2008 season but he could not push the Suns over the top being bested by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. Then he played as a shadow of his former self with LeBron inClevelandfor one season in 2009-2010 to no avail. His last hope to get ring number five was with the Boston Celtics, which was an injury riddled season ended by his former teammates and team, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

One can argue that Shaq transitioned himself from dominate center to team player with the immergence and abilities of his teammates Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Steve Nash, and LeBron James. He allowed others to take on a larger scoring role within their given offense despite his abilities; a 7’ 1” Hall of Fame decoy standing in the paint?

One can also argue that Shaq was constantly double and triple teamed; this is what happens when your only offensive move is a dunk. Shaq was the victim of “Hack-a-Shaq”, the strategy to foul Shaq sending him to the line due to his poor free throw shooting; he retired with a .527 career free throw percentage. All dominate centers have faced the same adversity with their careers in the NBA. Shaq is no different but he would lead you to believe differently.

His problems included poor conditioning, bad timing on his toe surgery, calling out his current (Kobe Bryant) or former teammates (Ricky Davis) and coaches (Phil Jackson and Pat Riley) in the media, and his lack of desire to play the game. His smile and playfulness was so effective that the media and fans constantly gave Shaq a pass on his short comings.

Shaq’s heart was in the spotlight, but only his wallet was in the game. If Shaq had dedicated himself to the being the best, it’s frustrating to think what would his career could have been, maybe better thanJordan’s? Many will remember him as one of the best players to ever play the game. Winning 4 NBA Championships says a lot about his career. Knowing he cheated himself and the game, it’s hard to think of Shaq as anything else but a dominating physical force with little else to offer other than highlight dunks. His God given ability was enough to average 29 points and 10 rebounds a night while in his prime. That ability was enough for him to stroll through a 19-year Hall of Fame career. What will sports fans and NBA purist remember him as?