This summer in the NBA has been one of the most hectic of all time.
Some players took less money for a title. Some took more than they will ever merit. Some (gasp!) actually got paid what they deserved.
And then there was Shaquille O’Neal.
ESPN reported today that the Big Aristotle signed a two-year deal worth roughly $3 million with the Boston Celtics. This comes as a surprise to many who heard Shaq insist that he wanted nearly $10 million throughout the entire offseason.
So what gives?
Yes, it would have been unlikely anyone would have given him the amount he wanted, and rightfully so. But since he took the veteran’s minimum, why choose the Celtics out of the plethora of teams that would have given him a deal of this size?
Does he just love the nickname “The Four-Ring Clover?” Is he a big fan of clam chowder?
The main reason that seems to be floating around is that he just wants another ring. The Celtics were one win—and possibly one knee injury—away from a title in June, so why not join the second-place team and try to get them over the hump?
In reality, that doesn’t wrap as neatly as it may seem.
The Celtics are one of the oldest teams in basketball, and are not exactly the healthiest. While they are full of talent, so much of it hinges on the team’s collective fitness. If Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins can’t recover fully, they will not be a contender.
And for someone at Shaq’s age, he should be looking for a guarantee.
If all he wants is a ring, there are better options. The Heat are the odds-on favorite in the East, and they need big man help. The Hawks could have given him more money, and are risers in the East.
He could have taken the veteran’s minimum anywhere, but he chose a team whose window is close to shut. Why?
Because this time, winning isn’t the only thing that matters.
It’s his legacy.
O’Neal has burned more bridges than William Tecumseh Sherman. Every team he has left, excluding Cleveland, had a bitter taste in their mouth after the Daddy’s departure.
But no team had, and still has, it worse than the Los Angeles Lakers.
Whether it was the feud with Kobe Bryant, the fact he wanted more money, or that he couldn’t accept being Bryant’s sidekick, Los Angeles felt the wrath of Shaq more than ever. They went from talk of the town to the dumps when O’Neal left.
So, appropriately, he has a lot of people in the City of Angels that don’t like him very much.
While it isn’t close to how Cleveland feels after LeBron James left, losing O’Neal to Miami enraged many fans who thought their Lakers could have won eight championships this past decade. He was viewed as a selfish villain, and much of L.A. ganged up against him.
Whether that was fair or not is not up for discussion.
Shaq has plenty of faithful followers, don’t get me wrong. But he really doesn’t have a NBA team he can call home and a place where his fans want him.
That is where the Celtics come in.
O’Neal can get absolutely everything he wants by succeeding in Boston. First, look at how much Boston fans love their players. As long as you help the team win a title, you will be loved and remembered by Celtic fans forever.
Even you, Brian Scalabrine.
But there are even more sticking points here. What’s the one thing the Celtics faithful love more than winning championships?
Beating the Lakers for a championship.
And the Red Sox.
If he beats L.A. in Beantown, Shaq kills six birds with one stone:
- He finds a loving place to call home, because Celtics who beat the Lakers (and vice-versa) are revered.
- He beats Kobe head-to-head in the Finals, legitimating him (maybe not to everyone, but in his mind) as the better part of the duo.
- He gets his fifth ring to tie Kobe, so his legacy would be equal to Bryant’s.
- He could get his number retired in a city that loves hanging numbers in the rafters.
- He did it as a starter, showing the NBA he wasn’t as washed up as so many said.
- He won’t leave the city with a sad ending like the rest of his stops, making his career end on a positive note.
There is no other place in the NBA he can do all of that. Sure, he can win with the Heat, but people would give that ring an asterisk because he just jumped on the bandwagon.
Penny Hardaway tried that earlier this summer, and got as much love as A.C. Green did for the first 35 years of his life.
The new Jolly Green Giant knows the path to a ring goes through the defending champion and media-created rival Los Angeles Lakers. He also knows that Boston is the one spot where if he beats Kobe and Co., the payoff is infinitely greater.
Shaq went on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live Monday and was asked if he thought it might be weird to put on a Celtics’ uniform after being a Laker for so long.
The response from the normally outgoing and hilarious big man?
Because it’s about the legacy he leaves behind, not the one he might regret. The Celtics give him the best chance to become the loved icon he once was.
And that’s how Shaq wants to be remembered.