Wednesday, June 1, 2011

So Long, Shaq

Shaquille O'Neal announced his retirement today via Twitter and while this might not come as a surprise to anyone (and it may be a season or two late), it's still an important moment for the NBA. Over the next few days, there will be a lot of obituary style profiles of Shaq on ESPN and on the blogs that will all remind us of what a ridiculous monster this guy was in his prime, and he was. The numbers he put up during the beginning of the Lakers 2000s dynasty are almost hard to imagine (he averaged nearly 40 points a game against the Nets), and were almost Wilt like; that is, people will read those numbers in 30 or 40 years and think that there had to be something up, like the competition was a bunch of 6"5' white guys or he must have been a huge ball hog, like when we try to diminish Wilt's crazy stats. Except, for those of us who watched Shaq (and were never able to see Chamberlain outside of grainy old footage and Conan movies), he really was that dominant; no numbers trickery needed. A 350 lb. (his weight was usually listed at about a small child's worth less than he actually was) behemoth, who not only could physically dominate inside, but also was able to move around pretty nimbly in his younger days. The overweight ogre trudging up and down the court for the past 5 years or so is not how I'll remember Shaq.

He also was a pioneering (so to speak) athlete/ multimedia icon. Jordan started it (and to a lesser extent Magic and Bird) by mixing fashion, movies and sports but the Diesel took the pro athlete as world wide entertainer to another level. Depending on who you ask, he may have done this to a fault, as some critics will tell you Shaq never had the commitment to basketball that could have vaulted him to greatest ever status. In the days before twitter (hell, before MySpace) Shaq was an expert self promoter who (for better or worse) paved the way for this generation of flashy one man brand names. No matter if his outside interests were a distraction, the man of many goofy nicknames was a truly one of a kind physical phenomenon on the court and that might be enough to forgive him for Kazaam, if not for Steel.

With his retirement, the era that has already begun it's fading away with the loss of the big 3 of the aughts (Spurs, Lakers and Celtics) to make room for the new big 3 is,if not officially, at least symbolically over. Shaq retires and brings with him the era of the dominant big man and leaves Grant Hill and Kobe as the last of the 90s all-stars,to make way for the new breed of superstar.

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