007nites Presents: Shaquille O'Neal
Full Name: Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal
Born: March 6, 1972 in Newark, New Jersey
High School: Robert J. Cole (San Antonio, Texas)
College: Louisiana State University (1989-1992)
Drafted By: Orlando Magic, 1st Overall, 1992 NBA Draft
Height: 7-1 ; Weight: 325lbs
Nicknames: See Below
Shaq, The Diesel, Shaq Fu, The Big Daddy, Superman, The Big Agave, The Big Cactus, The Big Shaqtus, The Big Galactus, Wilt Chamberneezy, The Big Baryshnikov, The Real Deal, Dr. Shaq, The Big Shamrock, Shaqovic, The Big Leprechaun, The Big Conductor, M.D.E. (Most Dominant Ever), L.C.L. (Last Center Left)
Career Statistics: - (1992-2011)
G - 1207
FG% - .582
3PFG% - .045
FT% - .527
Points - 28,596
PPG - 23.7
Rebounds - 13,099
RPG - 10.9
Assists - 3,026
APG - 2.5
Blocks - 2,732
BPG - 2.3
Steals - 739
SPG - 0.6
Honors: 4 x NBA Champion, 3 x NBA Finals MVP, 1 x NBA Regular Season MVP, 8 x All-NBA First Team, 2 x All-NBA Second Team, 4 x All-NBA Third Team, 2 x NBA Scoring Champion, 15 x NBA All-Star, NBA Rookie of the Year, 3 x All-Defensive Second Team, 3 x NBA All-Star Game MVP, 1996 Olympic Gold Medallist, 1994 FIBA World Champion, 1994 FIBA World Championship MVP, 2 x All-American, 2 x SEC Player of the Year, 1991 NCAA Mens Player of the Year, LSU Hall of Fame Inductee 2000
High School and College
O'Neal led his Robert G. Cole High School team, from San Antonio, Texas, to a 68–1 record during his two years there and helped the team win the state championship during his senior year. His 791 rebounds during the 1989 season remains a state record for a player in any classification.
After graduating from high school, O'Neal studied business at Louisiana State University. He had first met Dale Brown, LSU's men's basketball coach, years earlier in Europe. O'Neal's stepfather was stationed on a U.S. Army base at Wildflecken, West Germany. His godfather a First Sergeant was at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio,Texas, where O'Neal attended Fulda American High School, a DODDS school.
While playing for Brown at LSU, O'Neal was a two-time All-American, two-time SEC player of the year, and received the Adolph Rupp Trophy as NCAA men's basketball player of the year in 1991.
O'Neal left LSU early to pursue his NBA career, but returned to school in 2000 and received a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies. He was later inducted into the LSU Hall of Fame.
The Orlando Magic drafted O'Neal with the 1st overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. During that summer, prior to moving to Orlando, he spent a significant amount of time in Los Angeles under the tutelage of Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. During his rookie season, O'Neal averaged 23.4 points on 56.2% shooting, 13.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game for the season. He was named the 1993 NBA Rookie of the Year and became the first rookie to be voted an All-Star starter since Michael Jordan in 1985. The Magic finished 41–41, winning 20 more games than the previous season; however, the team ultimately missed the playoffs by virtue of a tie-breaker with the Indiana Pacers. On more than one occasion during the year, Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum overheard O'Neal saying, "We've got to get Matty Guokas out of here and bring in Brian Hill."
In O'Neal's second season, Hill was the coach and Guokas was reassigned to the front office. O'Neal improved his scoring average to 29.4 points (second in the league to David Robinson) while leading the NBA in field goal percentage at 60%. On November 20, 1993, against the New Jersey Nets, O'Neal registered the first triple-double of his career, recording 24 points to go along with career highs of 28 rebounds and 15 blocks. He was voted into the All-Star game and also made the All-NBA 3rd Team. Teamed with newly-drafted Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, the Magic finished with a record of 50–32 and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. In his first playoff series, O'Neal averaged 20.7 points and 13.3 rebounds in a losing effort as the Magic lost every game to the Indiana Pacers.
In his third season, O'Neal's 29.3 point average led the NBA in scoring. He finished second in MVP voting to David Robinson and was voted into his third straight All-Star Game along with Hardaway. They formed one of the league's top duos and helped Orlando to a 57–25 record and the Atlantic Division crown. The Magic won their first ever playoff series against the Boston Celtics in the 1995 NBA Playoffs. They then defeated the Chicago Bulls in the conference semi-finals. After beating Reggie Miller's Indiana Pacers, the Magic reached the NBA Finals, facing the defending NBA champion Houston Rockets. O'Neal played well in his first Finals appearance, averaging 28 points on 59.5% shooting, 12.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Despite this, the Rockets, led by future Hall-of-Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, swept the series in four games.
O'Neal was injured for a great deal of the 1995–96 season, missing 28 games. He averaged 26.6 points and 11 rebounds per game, made the All-NBA 3rd Team, and played in his 4th All-Star Game. Despite O'Neal's injuries, the Magic finished with a regular season record of 60–22, second in the Eastern conference to the Chicago Bulls, who finished with an NBA record 72 wins. Orlando easily defeated the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds of the 1996 NBA Playoffs; however, they were no match for Jordan's Bulls, who swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals.
O'Neal became a free agent after the 95–96 NBA season. In the summer of 1996, O'Neal was named to the United States Olympic basketball team, and was later part of the gold medal-winning team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. While the Olympic basketball team was training in Orlando, the Orlando Sentinel published a poll that asked whether the Magic should fire Hill if that were one of O'Neal's conditions for returning. 82% answered "no". O'Neal had a power struggle while playing under Hill. He said the team "just didn't respect Hill."Another question in the poll asked, "Is Shaq worth $115 million?" in reference to the amount of the Magic's offer. 91.3% of the response was "no". O'Neal's Olympic teammates rode him hard over the poll. He was also upset that the Orlando media implied O'Neal was not a good role model for having a child with his longtime girlfriend with no immediate plans to marry. O'Neal compared his lack of privacy in Orlando to "feeling like a big fish in a dried-up pond." On the team's first full day at the Olympics in Atlanta, it was announced that O'Neal would join the Los Angeles Lakers on a seven-year, $121 million contract. He insisted he did not choose Los Angeles for the money. "I'm tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money," O'Neal said after the signing. "I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok," he added, referring to a couple of his product endorsements. The Lakers won 56 games during the 1996–97 season. O'Neal averaged 26.2 points and 12.5 rebounds in his first season with Los Angeles; however, he again missed over 30 games due to injury. The Lakers made the playoffs, but were eliminated by the Utah Jazz in five games. On December 17, 1996, O'Neal shoved Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls; Rodman's teammates Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan restrained Rodman and prevented further conflict. The Los Angeles Daily News reported that O'Neal was willing to be suspended for fighting Rodman, and O'Neal said: "It's one thing to talk tough and one thing to be tough."
The following season, O'Neal averaged 28.3 points and 11.4 rebounds. He also led the league with a 58.4 field goal percentage, the first of five consecutive seasons in which he did so. The Lakers finished the season 61–21, first in the Pacific Division, and were the second seed in the western conference during the 1998 NBA Playoffs. After defeating the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics in the first two rounds, the Lakers again fell to the Jazz, this time in a 4–0 sweep.
With the tandem of O'Neal and teenage superstar Kobe Bryant, expectations for the Lakers increased. However, personnel changes were a source of instability during the 1998–99 season. Long-time Laker point guard Nick Van Exel was traded to the Denver Nuggets; his former backcourt partner Eddie Jones was packaged with back-up center Elden Campbell for Glen Rice to satisfy a demand by O'Neal for a shooter. Coach Del Harris was fired, and former Lakers forward Kurt Rambis finished the season as head coach. The Lakers finished with a 31–19 record during the lockout-shortened season. Although they made the playoffs, they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs, led by Tim Duncan and David Robinson in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. The Spurs would go on to win their first NBA title that year.
In 1999, the Lakers hired Phil Jackson as head coach, and the team's fortunes soon changed. Using Jackson's triangle offense, O'Neal and Bryant enjoyed tremendous success, leading the Lakers to three consecutive titles (2000, 2001, and 2002). O'Neal was named MVP of the NBA Finals all three times and had the highest scoring average for a center in NBA Finals history.
O'Neal was also voted the 1999–2000 regular season Most Valuable Player, one vote short of becoming the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. Fred Hickman, then of CNN, instead chose Allen Iverson, then of the Philadelphia 76ers who would go on to win MVP the next season. O'Neal also won the scoring title while finishing second in rebounds and third in blocked shots. Jackson's influence resulted in a newfound commitment by O'Neal to defense, resulting in his first All-Defensive Team selection (second-team) in 2000.
In the 2001 NBA Finals against the 76ers, O'Neal fouled out in Game 3 backing over Dikembe Mutombo, the 2000–2001 Defensive Player of the Year. "I didn't think the best defensive player in the game would be flopping like that. It's a shame that the referees buy into that," O'Neal said. "I wish he'd stand up and play me like a man instead of flopping and crying every time I back him down.
In the summer of 2001, holding a basketball camp on the campus of Louisiana State University, O'Neal was challenged to a friendly wrestling match by LSU alumnus and current Boston Celtics player Glen "Big Baby" Davis, then 15 years of age and attending high school. O'Neal, weighing 350 lb (160 kg; 25 st), was impressed by the youngster, who lifted and body-slammed him to the ground. A month before the 2001–02 season's training camp, O'Neal had corrective surgery for a claw toe deformity in the smallest toe of his left foot. He was ready for the start of the regular season, but the toe frequently bothered him. In January 2002 he was involved in a spectacular on-court brawl in a game against the Chicago Bulls. He punched center Brad Miller after an intentional foul to prevent a basket, resulting in a melee with Miller, forward Charles Oakley and several other players. O'Neal was suspended for three games without pay and fined $15,000. For the season, O'Neal averaged 27.2 points and 10.7 rebounds, excellent statistics but below his career average; he was less of a defensive force during the season.
Matched up against the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference finals, O'Neal said, "There is only one way to beat us. It starts with c and ends with t." O'Neal meant "cheat" in reference to the alleged flopping of Kings' center Vlade Divac. O'Neal referred to Divac as "she", and said he would never exaggerate contact to draw a foul. "I'm a guy with no talent who has gotten this way with hard work." After the season, O'Neal told friends that he did not want another season of limping and being in virtually constant pain from his big right toe. His trademark mobility and explosion had been often absent. The corrective options ranged from reconstructive surgery on the toe to rehabilitation exercises with more shoe inserts and anti-inflammation medication. O'Neal was already wary of the long-term damage his frequent consumption of these medications might have. He did not want to rush a decision with his career potentially at risk.
O'Neal missed the first 12 games of the 2002–2003 season recovering from toe surgery. He waited the whole summer until just before training camp for the surgery and explained, "I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time." The Lakers started the season with a record of 11–19. After the Lakers fell to the fifth seed and failed to reach the Finals in 2003, the team made a concerted off-season effort to improve its roster. They sought the free-agent services of forward Karl Malone and aging guard Gary Payton, but due to salary cap restrictions, could not offer either one nearly as much money as they could have made with some other teams. O'Neal assisted in the recruitment efforts and personally persuaded both men to join the squad. Ultimately, both signed, each forgoing larger salaries in favor of a chance to win an NBA championship, which neither had accomplished in his career (and which neither would achieve with the Lakers). At the beginning of the 2003–04 season, O'Neal wanted a contract extension with a pay raise on his remaining three years for $30 million. The Lakers had hoped O'Neal would take less money due to his age, physical conditioning, and games missed due to injuries. During a preseason game, O'Neal had yelled at Lakers owner Jerry Buss, "Pay me." It is widely believed that there was also concern about O'Neal's relationship with Kobe Bryant, as the two had exchanged public barbs during the off-season. With Bryant scheduled to become a free agent at the end of that season, many believed he would not choose to remain with the Lakers as O'Neal's sidekick.
The Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. Lakers assistant coach Tex Winter said, "Shaq defeated himself against Detroit. He played way too passively. He had one big game ... He's always interested in being a scorer, but he hasn't had nearly enough concentration on defense and rebounding.
On July 14, 2004, O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a future first-round draft choice. O'Neal reverted from (his Lakers jersey) number 34 to number 32, which he had worn while playing for the Magic. Upon signing with the Heat, O'Neal promised the fans that he would bring a championship to Miami. He claimed that one of the main reasons for wanting to be traded to Miami was because of their up-and-coming star, Dwyane Wade. With O'Neal on board, the new-look Heat surpassed expectations, claiming the best record in the Eastern Conference. He averaged 22.9 ppg and 10.4 rpg, made his 12th consecutive All-Star Team, and made the All-NBA 1st Team. Despite being hobbled by a deep thigh bruise, O'Neal led the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals and a Game 7 against the defending champion Detroit Pistons, losing by a narrow margin. Afterwards, O'Neal and others criticized Heat head coach Stan Van Gundy for not calling enough plays for O'Neal. O'Neal also narrowly lost the 2004–05 MVP Award to Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash in one of the closest votes in NBA history.
In August 2005, O'Neal signed a 5-year-extension with the Heat for $100 million. Supporters applauded O'Neal's willingness to take what amounted to a pay cut and the Heat's decision to secure O'Neal's services for the long term. They contended that O'Neal was worth more than $20 million per year, particularly given that lesser players earned almost the same amount.
In the second game of the 2005–06 season, O'Neal injured his right ankle and subsequently missed the following 18 games. Upon O'Neal's return, Van Gundy resigned, citing family reasons, and Pat Riley assumed head coach responsibilities. Many critics stated that Heat coach Riley correctly managed O'Neal during the rest of the season, limiting his minutes to a career low. Riley felt doing so would allow O'Neal to be healthier and fresher come playoff time. Although O'Neal averaged career lows (or near-lows) in points, rebounds, and blocks, he said in an interview "Stats don't matter. I care about winning, not stats.
On April 11, 2006, O'Neal recorded his second career triple-double against the Toronto Raptors with 15 points, 11 rebounds and a career high 10 assists. O'Neal finished the season as the league leader in field goal percentage.
In the 2006 NBA Playoffs, the Miami Heat won their first NBA Championship. Led by both O'Neal and eventual Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, the 2nd seeded Heat defeated the defending Eastern Conference Champion and top-seeded Detroit Pistons in a rematch of the 2005 Conference Finals. They then defeated the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals.
O'Neal put up considerably lower numbers compared to those he recorded during the 2005–06 regular season, but he twice delivered dominant games in order to close out a playoff series: a 30 point, 20 rebound effort in Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls in the first round, and a 28 point, 16 rebound, 5 block effort in Game 6 against the Pistons. It was O'Neal's fourth title in seven seasons, and fulfilled his promise of delivering an NBA championship to Miami.
In the 2006–07 season, O'Neal missed the next 35 games after an injury to his left knee in November required surgery. After one of those missed games, a Christmas Day match-up against the Lakers, he ripped Jackson, who O'Neal had once called a second father, referring to his former coach as Benedict Arnold. Jackson had previously said, "The only person I've ever coached that hasn't been a worker ... is probably Shaq." The Heat struggled during O'Neal's absence, but with his return won seven of their next eight games. Bad luck still haunted the squad, however, as Wade dislocated his left shoulder, leaving O'Neal as the focus of the team. Critics doubted that O'Neal, now in his mid-thirties, could carry the team into the playoffs. The Heat went on a winning streak that kept them in the race for a playoff spot, which they finally secured against the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 5.
In a rematch of the year before, the Heat faced the Bulls in the first round. The Heat struggled against the Bulls and although O'Neal put up reasonable numbers, he was not able to dominate the series. The Bulls outplayed their opponents, resulting in a sweep. It was the first time in ten years that O'Neal did not advance into the second round. In the 2006–07 season O'Neal reached 25,000 career points, becoming the 14th player in NBA history to accomplish that milestone. However, it was the first season in O'Neal's carrer that his scoring average dropped below 20 points per game.
O'Neal experienced a rough start for the 2007–08 season, averaging career lows in points, rebounds and blocks. O'Neal's streak of 14 straight All-Star appearances ended that season.
The Phoenix Suns acquired O'Neal from the league-worst, 9–37 Heat, in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. O'Neal made his Suns debut on February 20, 2008 against his former Lakers team, scoring 15 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in the process. The Lakers won, 130–124. O'Neal was upbeat in a post-game press conference, stating: "I will take the blame for this loss because I wasn't in tune with the guys [...] But give me four or five days to really get in tune and I'll get it."
In 28 regular-season games, O'Neal averaged 12.9 points and 10.6 rebounds, good enough to make the playoffs. One of the reasons for the trade was to limit Tim Duncan in the event of a postseason matchup between the Suns and the San Antonio Spurs, especially after the Suns' six-game elimination by the Spurs in the 2007 NBA Playoffs. O'Neal and the Phoenix Suns did face the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, but they were once again eliminated, lasting five games. O'Neal averaged 15.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game.
O'Neal preferred his new situation with the Suns over the Heat. "I love playing for this coach and I love playing with these guys," O'Neal said. "We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with [his former Heat teammates] Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I'm actually on a team again." Riley felt O'Neal was wrong for maligning his former teammates. O'Neal responded with an expletive toward Riley, who he often referred to as the "great Pat Riley" while playing for the Heat.
The 2008–09 season improved for O'Neal, who averaged 18 pts, 9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks through the first half (41 games) of the season, leading the Suns to a 23–18 record and 2nd place in their division. He returned to the All-Star Game in 2009 and emerged as co-MVP along with ex-teammate Kobe Bryant.
On February 27, 2009, O'Neal scored 45 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, his 49th career 40-point game, beating the Toronto Raptors 133–113.
The 2009 NBA Playoffs was also the first time since O'Neal's rookie season in 1992–93 that he did not participate in the playoffs.
He was named as a member of the All-NBA Third Team.
On June 25, 2009, O'Neal was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Sasha Pavlovic, Ben Wallace, $500,000 and a 2010 second round draft pick. Upon arriving in Cleveland, O'Neal said, "My motto is very simple: Win a Ring for the King," referring to LeBron James.
On Friday, February 25, 2010 O'Neal suffered a severe right thumb injury while attempting to go up for a shot against Glen Davis of the Boston Celtics. He had surgery on the thumb on March 1 and returned to play on April 17 in the first round playoff game against the Chicago Bulls.
O'Neal averaged career lows in almost every major statistical category, taking on a much less significant role than in previous years. His presence in the post was not as significant as in years past. After the retirement of Lindsey Hunter on March 5, O'Neal became the NBA’s oldest active player. He returned to the starting line-up in time for the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The Cavaliers swiftly defeated the Chicago Bulls in the first round, yet Cleveland became the first team in NBA history to miss the NBA Finals after laying claim to the NBA's top playoff seed for two consecutive seasons. On May 13, the Cavaliers were eliminated from the playoffs, losing to the Boston Celtics 4–2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Upon hearing Bryant comment that he had more rings than O'Neal, Wyc Grousbeck, principal owner of the Celtics, saw an opportunity to acquire O'Neal. On August 4, 2010, the Celtics announced that they had signed O'Neal. The contract was for two years at the veteran minimum salary for a total contract value of $2.8 million. The Atlanta Hawks and the Dallas Mavericks also expressed interest but had stalled on O'Neal's salary demands. He was introduced by the Celtics on August 10, 2010, and chose the number 36.
O'Neal said he didn't "compete with little guys who run around dominating the ball, throwing up 30 shots a night—like D–Wade, Kobe." O'Neal added that he was only competing against Duncan: "If Tim Duncan gets five rings, then that gives some writer the chance to say 'Duncan is the best,' and I can't have that." He insisted he did not care whether he started or substituted for the Celtics, but expected to be part of the second unit. O'Neal missed games throughout the season due to an assortment of ailments to his right leg including knee, calf, hip, and Achilles injuries. The Celtics traded away center Kendrick Perkins in February partially due to the expectation that O'Neal would return to fill Perkins' role. The Celtics were 33–10 in games Perkins had missed during the year due to injury, and they were 19–3 in games that O'Neal played over 20 minutes. O'Neal returned April 3 after missing 27 games due to his Achilles, but he played only five minutes due to a strained right calf. It was the last regular season game he would play that year. O'Neal missed the first round of the 2011 playoffs, and he was limited to 12 minutes in two games in the second round against the Heat, who eliminated the Celtics from the playoffs.
On June 1, 2011, O'Neal announced his retirement via social media.
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