Shaq Retires: Did the Embarrassing End Take Away from His Legendary Career?

Chaz SuretteCorrespondent IJune 1, 2011

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 19:  Shaquille O'Neal #36 of the Boston Celtics celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons on January 19, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Pistons 86-82. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Today, we learned that Shaquille O'Neal is planning to retire from the NBA after 19 seasons.

Beginning with his selection as the first overall pick by the Orlando Magic in 1992 out of LSU, Shaq was a part of four NBA Championship teams (three with the Lakers and one with the Heat), won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 2000, was MVP of the Finals three straight years (2000-2002), was a 15-time All-Star and an eight-time All-NBA first team selection.

In addition, he's fifth all-time in total points scored with 28,596 points in 19 seasons and is second all-time in field goal percentage with .582. He averaged 23.7 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game as well.

On the court, Shaq will certainly go down as one of the greatest players of all time and will forever be remembered as one of the biggest, most intimidating big men in history. He could easily plow through anyone who tried to defend him, and he knew how to get to the hoop and score points and boards better than anyone, using all 7'1" and 325 pounds that he possessed.

However, after his public and bitter fallout with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaq proceeded to bounce around the league for the remainder of his career, first traveling to Miami in 2004 (where he won a ring with Dwyane Wade and the Heat in 2006), then Phoenix in 2008, Cleveland in 2009 and finally Boston in 2010, where he played his 19th and final season.

During this time, Shaq's production slowly began to decline, as age and injuries began to catch up with him. No longer could Shaq completely dominate opponents in the paint and score or rebound like he used to.

Following his trade to Cleveland in 2009, Shaq appeared old. His minutes and production declined drastically, and he continued to battle injuries. He was a shell of his former self.

His arrival in Boston would only add insult to even more injury. Shaq only played 37 games for the Celtics and averaged an appalling 9.2 PPG and 4.8 RPG. He only managed 20 minutes per game for much of the season, and he was completely ineffective in the playoffs.

With his retirement, we have to ask the question: How do Shaq's last few years affect his legacy?

First and foremost, I don't think it in any way subtracts from his career accomplishments. It may be a very long time before we see a man of his size and ability in the NBA.

The way he could dominate the paint at both ends of the floor and the challenge of guarding him was nearly insurmountable when we was in his prime, and there's no doubt that he was the key to the Lakers' three-peat early in the 2000's.

At the very worst, the final years of Shaq's career make him look like a veteran who over-stayed his welcome. Sure, he was popular with fans, and his off-the-court antics proved entertaining (at least to a point). However, his style in those years certainly surpassed his substance, as his game had to declined to the point that he was beginning to become a liability, especially with mounting injuries and decreased production.

Regardless of what you thought of Shaq, he'll always have a special in the heart of Celtics fans, as it was he who gave Paul Pierce his "Truth" moniker back in 2001.

Personally, I'll remember Shaq in his prime, not at his end, and he'll always be remembered as one of the most feared big men in the history of basketball.