Shaquille O’Neal is retired. It's a confusing time for Kings fans like myself.
On the one hand, I have come to a begrudging respect for the Big Nickname in the last few years. Watching him labor through seasons in Phoenix, Cleveland and finally Boston has made me realize what a true force of nature he was in his prime, and what a delicate balance of skill, power and grace that prime was.
On the other hand, I freakin’ hate Shaq.
Not on a personal level, just as a basketball player. He crushed my hopes and dreams as a basketball fan too many times to count. He loudly and publicly dubbed my home team, the Sacramento Kings, the Sacramento “Queens,” and then went out on the court and ended their championship aspirations.
In his prime, Shaq and the Lakers not only beat the Kings, they humiliated them. There was a special hatred between the two teams not uncommon among good teams within a relatively close geographical proximity. And therefore it was that much more painful when the Lakers publicly disrespected, disregarded and looked past the Kings, and did so on a national stage.
It added literal insult to injury when they backed up their talk.
And Shaq was the king of talk. More than any other Laker, even Kobe Bryant or Phil Jackson, Shaq was the physical representation of everything Kings fans hated about the Lakers. He was flashy. He was loud. He was entitled. He was great.
Through the years, my hatred for Shaq has gone beyond all reasonable levels. It is because of him that the Kings never saw the finals, and never got the chance at a ring that I thought they deserved.
In many ways, I still haven’t forgiven him.
However, recently I have come to terms with my Shaq hatred. Hindsight, they say, is 20/20 and in my hindsight I have come to see what the rest of the country probably saw at the time; that Shaq could afford to be so dismissive of the Kings because he knew the truth. That he is one of the all-time greats, and none of them are.
He could disrespect Vlade Divac and Chris Webber because in the end, those players will be remembered as very good, while Shaq will be remembered as a legend.
For the last few years, Shaq has been a shadow of his former self (figuratively, of course). He has become less and less effective with each passing year, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching it. The inevitable breakdown of Shaq’s body has served, in some small, personal way, as a sort of karmic revenge for the way he brashly crushed the Kings.
But this decline has also made me respect what he was, and what a rare combination of talents he possessed.
Sometime soon, Shaquille O’Neal will become a Hall-of-Famer. I can no longer argue his merits like I used to.
But I’d still like to see him trip and fall face first on the stage en route to giving his acceptance speech. Because I know if this happens, somewhere Doug Christie will be laughing his ass off.