Shaquille O'Neal: A Tribute to the Most Celebrated Center of Our Generation

Joseph FafinskiCorrespondent IJune 1, 2011

22 Dec 2000:  Shaquille O''Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. The Lakers defeated the Mavericks 108-103. NOTE TO USER: It is expressly understood that the only rights Allsport are offering to license in this Photograph are one-time, non-exclusive editorial rights. No advertising or commercial uses of any kind may be made of Allsport photos. User acknowledges that it is aware that Allsport is an editorial sports agency and that NO RELEASES OF ANY TYPE ARE OBTAINED from the subjects contained in the photographs.Mandatory Credit: Ronald Martinez  /Allsport
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He is perhaps the most unique player of all time.

He is perhaps the most celebrated center of all time.

He is perhaps the worst actor of all time.

He is Shaquille O'Neal.

After 19 seasons in the association, the big fella has decided to call it quits.

"We did it. Nineteen years baby," he said via his Twitter video message. "I want to thank you very much, that's why I'm telling you first: I'm about to retire. Love you, talk to you soon."

It all began when the Diesel was selected with the first pick of the 1992 draft, around the same time "Baby Got Back," Sir Mix-a-lot's biggest hit, was the biggest song in America.

He didn't disappoint his first season, averaging better than 23 points, 13 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.

Let's see anyone try to top those numbers soon.

He brought the Orlando Magic to a place they had never been before—the NBA Finals. And even though they lost, so continued the legend that was Shaq.

The 7'1" O'Neal was so good that he was named one of basketball's 50 greatest players ever four years into his career.

Then, in the summer of '96, just as I was entering my second year of preschool, Shaquille O'Neal was sent packing to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would team up with an afro-sporting teenager, Kobe Bryant, to win three titles in a row to kick off the millennium.

His first title-winning year with the Lakeshow, he was awarded MVP. In all three NBA Finals, he was named MVP.

And the stats. Do I even need to go into his incredible numbers?

Shaq averaged at least a 20-10 and shot better than 55 percent for the first 13 seasons of his career. Now, that is an astounding statistic.

I think we're seeing a trend here—Shaquille O'Neal was a valuable player, a center who used his weight to bully the crap out of his opponents, to seemingly rebound at will and score each bucket like it was his last.

Not to mention he was the league's most eccentric player. Whenever we needed an epic quote, we called Shaq. Whenever we needed unnecessary swearing on live television (which only he could get away with), we hit up Shaq.

Whenever we needed a house tour or a look into his life, he allowed us through the back door.

It's sad, really. The Diesel was the remaining remnant of one of the more exciting periods in basketball history, and with the announcement that his illustrious career was finished, we can now only reminisce. 

Fifteen years from now, he'll be Charles Barkley and people from my generation will brag that we got to see him in his prime.

He was so cocky and yet, we embraced him. He called himself a plethora of names, among them "Superman" and "LCL," which stood for Last Center Left.

As his career began to decline (but boy, did it take forever), he collected a fourth title with the Miami Heat.

And as his days became numbered in the league, we came to appreciate him for what he is: One of the best 10 players in NBA history. What other center can be considered better than Shaq outside Russell, Wilt, MJ and maybe Kareem can declare themselves a better player?

He's fifth and 12th on basketball's all-time career scoring and rebounding lists, respectively.

Shaq ushered in a new era of basketball, one that brought about a new generation of sorts.

Now that he has retired, it will be interesting to see what people make of him.

All I know is that his lasting impact will live on forever and he will always be revered in the basketball world.