Shaq Retired……

The Daddy is done.


Just like that, the Big MVP somehow morphed into the Big AARP.


Shaquille O’Neal, announcing his retirement via tweet video Wednesday afternoon, has backed his last inferior center into the post. Never again will the Diesel, the NBA’s most irresistible force since Wilt Chamberlain, dunk maliciously on a VW bug of a center like Greg Ostertag or Scot Pollard or Aaron Williams or, really, anyone but Tim Duncan, Alonzo Mourning and, sometimes, Dikembe Mutombo.


One day, I’m interviewing this talented goof from LSU in his Orlando Magic cubicle two years into his career, thinking what might happen if his strength and skill ever match up with his desire. The next, that big kid is 39 years old, has played 19 seasons, won four championships and has more points (28,596) than anyone in NBA history except Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Chamberlain, who, as great and unstoppable as he was, never had a defense designed for him called Hack-a-Stilt.


The most impressive statistic of all: Shaq, as much as he chipped paint off the rim from the foul line, actually finished No. 17 all-time in free throws made — because beating him up physically was the only way anyone thought they could stop him.


A word about where he stood in the pantheon of great centers: 1. Abdul-Jabbar for longevity, the dominance at both ends and the most unalterable shot in the history of the game, the skyhook; 2. Bill Russell for 11 rings and being the consummate teammate and greatest defender of all time; and 3. Shaq.


What many in the Wilt camp fail to realize is, for all O’Neal’s perceived activities away from the game, he actually cared more about being a team player and winning than Chamberlain. As Jack Ramsay, the former coach and longtime basketball analyst, said: “Shaq was more of a team player. Wilt went out and collected stats,” actually deciding in some years “what category he would lead the league in.”


Before my e-mail account is clogged by Wilt’s followers let me add this: part of my logic stems from the fact that the Big Dipper could have never equaled the Big Quipper as an ambassador for the game.


Selling the NBA — and, by association, the Lakers — became a needed asset after the post-Magic Johnson and especially post-Michael Jordan years in the NBA. The American public wasn’t just buying merely Jordan the basketball player anymore; it was buying Jordan the telegenic pitchman.


As big a bully as he could be on the court, Shaq became the antidote for a league devoid of much personality or panache after Jordan’s second retirement after the 1997-98 season coincided with the lockout. If he made nearly $300 million in guaranteed contracts as a player, he made countless more millions as that rare elite athlete, a guy who actually wanted to commune with his public rather than drive away with his tinted windows rolled up.





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