Farewell, Big Retirement: Shaq will be missed
Leave it to Shaq.
At the start of the NBA finals, the Big Aristotle - or whatever nickname he's going by these days - has managed to steal the spotlight.
Shaquille O'Neal didn't need 140 characters. He didn't need any punctuation or capitalization. All it took was a simple message on Twitter: ''im retiring''.
With that proclamation, Shaq has been the banner headline the past few days. And there's more to come. He will officially call it a career Friday in Orlando, Fla., an event that figures to be more party than press conference.
Now that's how you announce a decision, LeBron.
The behemoth who ran on Diesel won four NBA titles and exits stage left as probably the fourth-best center in NBA history (behind Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain, ahead of Hakeem Olajuwan, George Mikan and David Robinson).
Shaq the Entertainer, however, has no NBA peer.
He came along at just the right time for the NBA, ready and willing to take over after Michael Jordan won the last of his six titles and the league was staggered by a devastating labor dispute.
He rapped. He made movies. He pontificated on basketball and life (even law enforcement) for whoever would listen, droning on in a low voice that was sometimes impossible to decipher but always flashing those mischievous eyes, leaving you to question whether anything he told you was to be taken seriously, even if you understood him.
We were all putty in his massive grip.
Heck, we won't even hold ''Kazaam'' against him.
''I remember meeting him on the elevator my rookie year,'' Dallas center Brendan Haywood was saying Thursday, looking back on their encounter during an All-Star weekend in Philadelphia, ''and he asked me, 'Are you good? Is your family good? Do you need any money?' I was like, 'No, I'm good Shaq, but thanks for offering.'
''He was just that type of person. He was a good person.''
Wade saw it firsthand.
''I really learned a lot from him as a professional,'' Wade said. ''We had some great years together. Humbled, and totally honored, to have been a teammate. But as a fan, seeing the dominance of what he did will never be forgotten.''
So what more can Shaq possibly tell us? He's already opened up through every conduit imaginable, whether it was playing a genie on film or becoming one of the first athletes to jump on board the social media train.
He mocked. He enchanted. He infuriated. He charmed.
He was simply, Shaq.
No last name necessary.
''To me,'' said Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki, ''he's one of the all-time greats - not only on the court, but off the floor. Over the years, being in the same locker room in All-Star games, he's one of the funniest characters this league has ever seen. So he's going to be missed.''
When a giant of any sport fades away, the race is on to put their careers in instant perspective. Sizing up Shaq, many looked down on him (well, actually up, but you get the point) as someone who benefited from genetic good fortune, a guy who was capable of simply knocking aside anyone who got in his way.
And, it's true that he was quite the physical specimen, checking in at 7-foot-1 and more than 300 pounds, but all of it proportioned in such a way that it didn't look freakish. If you think he looked big on television, you should've seen him in person. He stood apart in the crowd, even in a league where 6-footers are considered tiny.
Shaq was the unquestioned NBA star of this century, no matter who was on the team. Kobe played with Shaq, D-Wade took a ride, as did LeBron. And in the twilight of his career playing with Boston's Big Three, even an ineffective Shaq was the darling of Beantown. He even took a turn with a baton and tails, conducting the Boston Pops.
''I think he's probably one of the only big men to ever play this game to be able to market and to be able to be marketable off the court,'' James said.
But for all of Shaq's accomplishments - a 15-time All-Star, a three-time finals MVP, a two-time scoring champion - there was this sense he could've been more. If only he had kept himself in better shape. If only he had worked a little harder. If only he had spent more time on his game and less time entertaining.
We can see that side. Shaq captured only one MVP award, in 2000 during the first of his four championship seasons. Despite his enormity, he never led the league in rebounding. He was never a first-teamer on the All-Defensive team. He was never quite Jordanesque.
But that's OK. MJ played up in the clouds, aloof and a bit out of reach for both peers and admirers. For all of Shaq's persnicketiness - yes, he could be a handful with the media - there was a sense he was one of us.
''He always had something funny to say, always made you smile, made you laugh,'' Nowitzki said. ''His personality was great.''
Shaq was a role model for players such as Dallas' Tyson Chandler, a high school star in Compton while O'Neal was in all his glory with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even as the game began to pass him by, ruled now by teeny point guards with all their speed and quickness, Shaq was still an enormous presence.
''He meant so much to youngsters like myself coming up in the game,'' Chandler said. ''He mentored a lot of us. And it was always a pleasure to watch him. He never disappointed.''
That's good enough for us.
Farewell, Big AARP.
You'll be missed.
National Writer Paul Newberry can be reached at pnewberry(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/pnewberry1963