Shaquille O'Neal is one of the best NBA players over the last two decades. In fact, since Michael Jordan retired, arguably the top three players are Shaq, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant.
Shaq was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1992. He was named Rookie of the Year, then went on to be a four-time NBA Champion, three-time Finals MVP, regular season MVP and a 15-time All-Star.
O’Neal was the face of the NBA in the post-Jordan era. He led the Los Angeles Lakers to three titles and four Finals appearances over five seasons.
He then joined forces with Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and the Miami Heat to capture a fourth championship.
This past season, he teamed up with LeBron James in Cleveland, hoping to gain a fifth title before either Duncan or Bryant, but ultimately came up short.
Now as Shaq gets ready to enter his 19th year in the league, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for him. It’s a shame that his career might come to an end this way.
It seems to be the way a number of once great NBA players are going. There isn’t much interest around the NBA for Allen Iverson or Tracy McGrady, either.
Young teams don’t want to sign these players because management wants to develop its own players and build for the future. Veteran teams don’t want these guys either, because general managers are afraid it will mess up the team’s chemistry.
I’m sure there are a number of teams that would be interesting in signing O’Neal, namely the Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets, but O’Neal needs to be willing to accept the fact he isn’t the player he once was. If Shaq is willing to sign for the veteran minimum and play limited minutes, possibly as a backup, then a number of general managers would probably be willing to give him a chance.
Unfortunately, Shaq still wants to start and isn’t willing to take that much of a pay cut.
There are reports that he is listening to offers from European teams for $10 million annually.
This would be an uncommon route for an American sports icon. It isn’t uncommon for European soccer stars to come to the United States at the end of their careers.
Pele did it with the New York Cosmos in 1972. David Beckham joined the L.A. Galaxy a few years ago. Most recently, Thierry Henry signed a multi-year deal with the New York Red Bulls.
Lesser-known NBA players have gone to play abroad. Josh Childress spent the last two seasons in Greece. In fact, Stephon Marbury recently agreed to a contract extension with the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association. Marbury was once considered a good, if not great, player but after his time in New York and his meltdown on the internet, no NBA general managers were willing to take a chance on him.
However, if Shaq were to go play overseas, he would be the biggest basketball star ever to do this.
Shaq has one of the largest personalities in the NBA and could easily take advantage of the numerous marketing opportunities in Europe. He isn’t the player he once was, but at 38 years old, Shaq is still capable of contributing on the basketball court.
Shaq is no doubt a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, but it is too bad that he can’t go out on top.
However, that normally isn’t the case for most great athletes. Watching Shaq go through this process reminds me of the end of Patrick Ewing’s career.
After a long, distinguished career with the New York Knicks, Ewing spent his final two seasons with the Seattle Supersonics and Orlando Magic. He was only a shell of his former self.
I remember an interview with Shaq where the reporter asked him where O’Neal thought Ewing could play next, and his response was "the backyard."
Well now it’s Shaq’s turn.
He isn’t the player he was once. His options are limited. No one likes getting old and it’s hard to watch these once great athletes lose what once made them so remarkable.
Hopefully Shaq is able to get one more season under his belt. Allow him to go out on his own terms and have one last victory lap through the NBA.
That may not be possible, though. Maybe it’s too late for Shaq and he will simply be left clinging to his youth, hoping to show everyone that he even remotely resembles the dominant player he once was.