LOS ANGELES — As is the norm when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant are involved, O’Neal’s jersey retirement ceremony was a mixture of happiness, celebration and oddity.
Bringing back fond Laker championship memories, O’Neal began his speech by yelling, “Can you dig it?,” which he did after the Lakers won their first three championships of the Phil Jackson era.
He also thanked late Lakers owner Jerry Buss for expediting the jersey retirement.
“It’s an honor to be here tonight,” O’Neal said, “and I’d like to dedicate this night to the great Jerry Buss. If I has one wish, that wish would be that he could be here to celebrate this joyous night with us.
“I know processes like this take a long period of time, but it’s because of Jerry Buss and his beautiful family that I’m here this early in my retirement.”
He went on to thank his mother, Lucille, “for always showing me to be kind, compassionate and humble, and my father, Sergeant Phillip Harrison, (who) took me and my mom in when I was two years old. You taught me how to play the game.
“You had a vision I was going to be big, and you wanted me to dominate like Wilt Chamberlain. You wanted me to have a presence like Bill Russell. And you even wanted me to have a little bit of finesse like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“To all the little kids out there, if you listen to your fathers, this is what you can accomplish.”
He then singled out former GM Jerry West who convinced him to leave Orlando as a free agent.
“I’d like to thank the great Jerry West for bringing me here in 1996,” Shaq said. “Jerry took a gamble on me. I was a flamboyant kid with a movie and a couple of rap albums out at the time. I remember Jerry taking me into The Forum and having me look up at all of the greats and saying ‘Son, if you do everything right, maybe one day you’ll be up there.’ Thank you Jerry West.”
He was also very complimentary of the Laker fans—even singling out superfan/actor Jack Nicholson. Jackson, too, was given heartfelt kudos by his former MVP center.
Yet in a bizarre move, not a word was mentioned by Shaq about Bryant during the on-court festivities, even though he’d talked about Bryant and a few former teammates during a pregame news conference. Bryant’s participation — or lack thereof — in the ceremony may have been even stranger than O’Neal not mentioning the other half of what he often referred to as The Dynamic Duo.
Even though it was halftime, Bryant decided to stay in the locker room. He pre-taped a message to be played back to O’Neal and the crowd — a message nearly completely devoid of emotion, lasting under a minute.
“Amazing how time flies,” said Kobe via the video boards throughout Staples Center. “I send congratulations to you, the most gifted physical specimen I’ve ever seen play this game. What you have … meant to this city has been absolutely historical. I know you’ve played for other organizations, but you’ll always truly be remembered as playing for just one — here with the L.A. Lakers. Your number has been officially immortalized. Enjoy it.”
Jackson — who received a rousing ovation and deafening roars of “We want Phil”, was appreciative of what O’Neal meant to his team.
“I want to thank you for your dedication, your leadership and the hard work you put in.”
There had been speculation that O’Neal and Bryant might publicly end their years of animosity. It never happened, but there’s always the chance it will happen at Bryant’s retirement party — in a decade or so.