Shaquille O'Neal: Player for All Seasons
Do I really need to provide an intro for this person? This slideshow is an attempt to look at a genius and a legend of a player who never failed to impress regardless of which team he belonged to.
Records, MVP, I can just lose count thinking of the awards and honors this seven foot one basketball player has achieved. Being a fan of MJ, I find it hard to praise anyone else, but Shaq is a different kind of player.
Some of his detractors may claim that he has a height advantage. Well, it is also a disadvantage I would say. One simple look at his stellar career is more than enough. I shall make a brief yet honest attempt at what this player has achieved.
The Beginnings of Shaq
A career that began at Orlando Magic and ever since it has been a roller coaster ride for this New Jersey born legend.
His 791 rebounds during the 1989 season for Robert G Cole High School remains a state record for any one player in any classification.
Prior to moving to Orlando, he spent a significant amount of time under the legendary Magic Johnson.
Rookie or Backboard Breaker!!
The picture may look quite a normal scene for most of us I guess. However in the year 1993 when O'Neal went on to become Rookie of the Year, on two occasions he dunked the ball so hard that he nearly broke the backboard support units.
From 1992 till 1995 he averaged between 23.4 and 29.4 points. It was a steady but awesome start to a career. He was partially responsible for Orlando Magic making it to the play-offs. In the 1994-95 season he however saw defeat at the hands of Houston Rockets spearheaded by another great Hakeem Olajuwon.
Despite helping Orlando Magic to the the play-offs in 1995-96, this time they lost to the indomitable Chicago Bulls. However, next season O'Neal moved on to his next team.
A Golden Era at the LA Lakers
Though O'Neal has remained to be a pretty consistent player from 1992 till date with a few not so great seasons, his stay with the Los Angeles Lakers could be summed up in one word: PHENOMENAL :)
As he joined the team, the team mainly consisted of youngsters. With a lot of mixed seasons and the arrivals of Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Kobe Bryant and finally Phil Jackson as the coach in 1999, the Lakers' fortunes began to change in a big way.
Jackson's use of the Triangle Offense propelled the two key players Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal to greater heights.
Probably a very well-known pair in the NBA which started evolving as the 20th century was coming to a close. 2000, 2001 and 2002 were some of the best years the Los Angeles Lakers would have seen as they literally dominated the NBA scene.
O'Neal was named MVP of the NBA Finals all three times and has the highest scoring average for a center in NBA Finals history. But then fame has a way of getting into people's heads I guess. Certain bad games and strain on the relationship between O'Neal and the rest of the players including Bryant saw his exit in the year of 2004.
Till date fans of LA Lakers would rue the departure of Phil Jackson and Shaq O'Neal though they are still a formidable side with Kobe Bryant. I guess the question of star value among O'Neal and Bryant must have been too intense a reason for all the bad air. Every good thing has an end and this was an end too.
Raising the heat with Miami Heat
From 2004 to 2006, it was indeed some sort of ice-breaking period for Shaq at Miami as he paired up with upcoming star Dwyane Wade.
In the 2006 NBA Playoffs, the Miami Heat would go on to win their first NBA Championship. Led by both O'Neal and star Dwyane Wade, the second seeded Heat defeated the defending Eastern Conference Champion and top-seeded Detroit Pistons in a rematch of the 2005 Conference Finals, and then defeated the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals.
Many critics began to feel that age was catching up with the star and this was evident in a knee injury that ruled him out for a majority of the 2006-07. However his return sparked a revival for the Heat but eventually lost to Chicago Bulls or simply put as they were outplayed.
The absence of Dwyane Wade thanks to a shoulder dislocation put more focus on O'Neal. Though he remained good with the numbers, he could not completely convert them into advantage for the Miami Heat.
From the 2007-08 season, O'Neal was plagued with injuries and long term absences and all this finally paved way for the Giant to move to the Phoenix Suns in exchange of Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.
Rise of a Phoenix: Shaq is Back
It was a slow start for the seven foot one star this time with the Phoenix Suns but he was exuding confidence right from the start and was upbeat about his form.
For all the stats-lovers his first season at the Suns did not see him average above 20 points a game.
The 2008-09 season differed very much for O'Neal, averaging 18 points, 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 in a win against the Toronto Raptors. He and the Suns defeated the Raptors 133-113.
37 and still going on ...
At the age of 37, it is hard to believe that is heavyweight's career is nearly over. Especially with his recent showing, I guess we can expect more from O'Neal.
There are indeed plenty of flaws with his playing style and character but to have come this far and still going on is quite commendable. Oppositions can indeed come up with new techniques like Hack-O-Shaq and what not but the seven foot one man has indeed fought every obstacle so far pretty well.