LOS ANGELES — The Lakers made it official Thursday — Shaquille O’Neal will have his No. 34 jersey retired in a ceremony sometime during the 2012-13 season.
Despite bad feelings between the team and O’Neal when he was traded to Miami in 2004, there was never a doubt that the big man would join Elgin Baylor (22), Jerry West (44), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Gail Goodrich (25), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33), Magic Johnson (32) and James Worthy (42) in a very exclusive Laker club.
The Lakers have said often that there’s no specific formula about retiring numbers. Owner Jerry Buss’ number-retirement policy differs from the majority of NBA teams — only Hall of Fame players get their gold-and-purple jersey hung high above the court at STAPLES Center. And O’Neal is a sure-fire first-ballot inductee.
The 2000 NBA MVP and three-time Finals MVP will be the eighth Los Angeles Lakers star to be given such an honor, while six Minneapolis Lakers’ HOFers — George Mikan, Slater Martin, Clyde Lovellette, Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen and coach John Kundla are celebrated with a banner showing each of their names. And, of course, there’s a one with a microphone on it in honor of broadcaster Chick Hearn.
“Right after Shaq retired we decided we were going to retire his number,” said Lakers’ Vice President of Public Relations John Black. “But with the shortened season we didn’t want to rush anything, so it will definitely happen next year.” The team says it will choose a specific date once the scheduled is released sometime this summer.
O’Neal retired in June after a 19-year career, having averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. He was even more prolific in his eight years with the Lakers, averaging 27 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 2.5 blocks, and was unstoppable in the “Three-Peat” postseasons of 2000, 2001, 2002, averaging 35.9 points and 15.2 rebounds.
Following Thursday’s 88-87 overtime win against the Boston Celtics — the final team O’Neal played for — Kobe Bryant said that the award was “much deserved.” The freeze between Bryant and O’Neal has seemed to thaw a bit recently, with Shaq calling Kobe “the greatest Laker of all time”) in a Twitter post the night he moved past O’Neal and into fifth place on the NBA scoring list. Bryant responded graciously, saying “I appreciate it. We had some good times. I’m sure Shaq and I will connect at some time and revisit history.” And owner Buss has obviously put aside some hard feelings toward Shaq as well.
During the 2003-04 preseason, O’Neal made it clear he wanted a contract extension that the Lakers weren’t prepared to give him at the time. During an exhibition game in Hawaii, he ran past Buss after hammering home a spectacular dunk, and yelled at the owner to pay him what he was worth. Buss refused and O’Neal was shipped to Miami following a Lakers loss to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Shaq then teamed with Dwyane Wade to bring a championship to Miami in 2006.
O’Neal started in the league with Orlando, which drafted him out of LSU in 1992. He signed with the Lakers as a free agent in 1996. He also played for the Heat, Phoenix, Cleveland and the Celtics. He made 15 All-Star teams, winning three All-Star Game MVP awards, and was an eight-time member of the All-NBA first team.