Why There Will Never Be Another Shaquille O'Neal

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Why There Will Never Be Another Shaquille O'Neal
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The glistening, 900-pound bronze statue in front of the LSU basketball practice facility only begins to hint at the lasting legacy left by the larger-than-life star of the hardwood known as Shaquille O'Neal.

On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers will offer up their own recognition of the big man.

O'Neal will become just the ninth player in franchise history to have his jersey retired (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com).

On the floor, O'Neal terrorized opposing bigs throughout his 19-year NBA career. His athleticism and coordination represented the unfairly generous gifts bestowed on his 7'1", 325-pound frame.

 

One-of-a-Kind on the Court

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His size advantage was always evident, but didn't rob him of his quickness until his final seasons.

The game may never again see a player with O'Neal's stature and skill set manning the interior.

He blended the size of yesterday's centers with the agility and quickness of today's smaller post men—and dominated both of them. He ran around slower defenders and ran over smaller ones.

He was an All-Star starter during his rookie season of 1992-93, the first player to accomplish the feat since Michael Jordan started for the 1985 Eastern Conference All-Stars. He won his first of two scoring titles in just his third season.

Due to his intimidating size and struggles at the free-throw line (career 52.7 percent), opponents battered O'Neal on his post touches. But he just fought through the contact, taking out his frustration on NBA stanchions throughout the league.

O'Neal's ferocity was unlike anything the league had seen.

Although he played less than half of his career with the Lakers, the Purple and Gold Nation may have seen his finest days of basketball. He averaged 27 points and 11.8 rebounds during his eight seasons in L.A., winning his first and only MVP award in 1999-2000.

That year was also his first under coaching legend Phil Jackson and his first trip to the NBA Finals since his Orlando Magic were swept by the Houston Rockets in the 1995 championship.

Back under the game's brightest lights, O'Neal showed that even the league's biggest stage might not be big enough for him.

Starting in 2000, he guided the Lakers to three straight NBA championships, earning the NBA Finals MVP award all three times. During those championship series, O'Neal tallied a blistering 35.9 points and 15.2 rebounds.

Shaq's size, footwork and motor proved too much for Reggie Miller's Indiana Pacers in the 2000 NBA Finals.

 

One-of-a-Kind Off the Court

At the same time, the league will undoubtedly never see another off-court superstar like the man of a thousand nicknames.

Ask a hoops junkie for his favorite O'Neal nickname, and it's anyone's guess what exactly you'll hear.

His first moniker was a simple shortening of his first name—Shaq. It still elicits the clearest image of the hulking center somehow navigating his massive figure through the defense and finishing his ventures with thunderous throwdowns.

But the references to the big man grew more colorful over time.

Diesel and Superman are two that have stood the test of time better than most. But from the all-encompassing M.D.E. (Most Dominant Ever) and the Big Aristotle to the team-specific Shaqtus and the Big Shamrock, O'Neal was simply a marketing genius.

He's sixth on the league's all-time scoring list (28,596), seventh in career blocks (2,732) and 14th among all rebounders (13,099), via basketball-reference.com.

But O'Neal has always been so much more than just a basketball player.

His acting credits haven't always been greeted with the warmest responses from critics (Kazaam, anyone?), but the July 2013 release of Grown Ups 2 will give him a 20-year presence on the silver screen.

He's also brushed up his acting chops on the TV circuit with appearances on everything from Curb Your Enthusiasm to WWE Raw. He currently serves as an NBA analyst for TNT and co-hosts TruTV's clip show Upload.

Who thought Shaq would really only serve as a guest house on WWE Raw?

He may be the only man afforded 26 hours in a day.

Between his acting and basketball career, he somehow found the time to release five studio rap albums, along with a compilation release. It was probably more impressive for the quantity than quality, but one music critic described O'Neal as "progressing as a rapper in small steps" (via J.T. Griffith of allmusic.com).

And we still haven't mentioned the fact that he's been a reserve officer in both Los Angeles and Miami Beach, an honorary U.S. deputy marshal (via SI.com), a trained mixed martial artist and the owner of a doctoral degree in education from Miami's Barry University (via ESPN.com).

Maybe I'm just hoops hardheaded, but my first thought of O'Neal starts somewhere inside the restricted area.

Something tells me I may be in the minority on that one.

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