Shaquille O'Neal: Diesel Still Trucking at 37

TOsports.caCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2009

I remember a few things from 1992. The Blue Jays won the World Series, the mushroom cut was cool, the US Dream Team dominated at the Olympic basketball competition, and a young 7'1", 300-pound Shaquille O’Neal was drafted into the NBA by the Orlando Magic. 

He was touted as having the potential to dominate the NBA and go down as one of the best ever from a very young age. Through his stints in Orlando, Los Angeles and Miami Shaquille has proven he is a winner, more specifically a NBA Champion.

With four titles to his credit (and three finals MVP awards), Shaquille has won four more titles than Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley combined. Shaquille has won a scoring title, a MVP award, three All-Star Game MVP awards, and an Olympic Gold Medal. 

He has been the face of the NBA during the “Post Jordan” era and only recently was replaced by LeBron James as the game’s biggest stars.

He came into the league as a slim and athletic big man, over time Shaquille has bulked up and now stands at 330 pounds plus. His quickness has diminished, his hand eye coordination is less accurate, he is playing less minutes and taken less shots.

Despite all this, Shaquille has stood the test of time and is playing at a level that very few would have predicted. At 18.2 points per game and 8.7 boards a game, Shaq is helping to carry the load left by the injury to Amare Stoudamire.

Though Phoenix is currently on the outside looking into the playoff picture, Shaquille is still going strong at age 37. His career averages of 24.9 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game and career 58 percent field goal percentage rank among the greatest of all time.

Recently, torching up the Raptors (like everyone else) for 45 points and then leading the Suns to a victory over LA with the help of 33 from O’neal, he is definitely deserving of his All-star game appearance. It goes without saying that the NBA will miss Shaq when he decides to hang up the shoes. 

Converting over 60 percent of his field goal attempts, O’Neal leads the league in that category. Had Amare been injured a week earlier, Shaquille might be a Cavalier right now. Imagine that, Shaq with LeBron. Shaq has had his fair share of superstar teammates including Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Penny Hardaway.

As he climbs up the all time scoring list, let us not forget the zany and off the wall stylings of O’neal on and off the court.

Now, Blue Chips was a pretty good movie, but Kazaam and all the other movies? Despite his lame attempts at acting, Shaq did release a couple Rap albums and even collaborated with the great Notorious BIG on a track.

His beef with Kobe Bryant lasted for years and was based on jealousy more than anything else. With the Hollywood media buzzing, the two openly feuded with one another, taking shots through the media at one another.

But just like his career, Shaquille has resurrected his relationship with Kobe Bryant, as witnessed at this year’s All-Star game. If nothing else, the two were overcompensating for their harsh pasts, falling just short of holding hands.

The two were sharing jokes, playing one on one during the warmups, exchanging pleasantries on the court, I couldn’t believe my eyes at one point.

One “beef” that is not so well known is the one between Shaq and his one time Orlando teammate Penny Hardaway. Penny entered a cushy situation in Orlando, with the media following Shaq like bees to honey, Penny quickly became an All-Star, co-starring with Shaq in Blue Chips and attaining endorsement deals.

All was dandy until Nike wanted to make a Penny Hardaway shoe. Shaq was sporting Reeboks and they were not selling so well, the Penny shoe outsold the O’neal shoe and Penny was gaining popularity.

O’Neal changed his demeanor with Penny and criticized him for taking so many shots.

Time brings change, that is inevitable. Over time, Shaq has amassed many awards and accomplishments. He stands in the top 10 All time in scoring, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. Shaquille has morphed into a well respected, gentle giant who still demands respect in and around the paint. 

In 1995, a young Shaquille lead the Orlando Magic to their first NBA Finals appearance. In game one, Orlando forward Nick Anderson is at the free-throw line. With a three point lead he needs to hit just one free throw to seal the game for the Magic. He misses both, gets his own rebound, is fouled again, only to miss two more free throws.

Had Nick Anderson hit one of those four attempts, the Orlando Magic would have won game one and the series over the Houston Rockets. The beginning of the Orlando Magic dynasty with Shaq and Penny leading the squad?

Things didn’t work out that way and the cards have settled. It is pointless to think about what may have happened if...because then people get emotional. Like what if John Starks didn’t have a horrendous Game Six? Or McSorley didn’t have an illegal stick?

And Jordan didn’t retire in 1993? The NBA fans will miss Shaquille more than Shaquille knows, his addictive personality, good natured sense of humour, eye for the spotlight, the occasional offensive comment, his breakdancing moves and larger than life image are irreplaceable.

The end of the O’Neal era is upon us. The Diesel is running low on fuel and the nearest gas station is miles away, if Shaquille drives conservatively and doesn’t hit traffic he just might make it for another fill up in Phoenix.