One of the most surprising things about his retirement was not that it happened or how he did it, but rather this annoying issue that kept coming up about whether or not Shaq's legacy was slightly (or more than slightly) tainted by the nomadic end to his career: after leaving a Laker franchise he rejuvenated, O'Neal had relatively short stints in Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland and finally Boston, where people sometimes accused him of "hanging on" to try an win another title.
It's pretty sad that people would accuse him of that, but not terribly surprising.
Collectively, fans never want to see their heroes leave until the moment that they are no longer as great as they once were. And the prime example of that was Michael Jordan's tenure in Washington.
Many people talk about how that tainted his legacy, but no one was complaining while he was out on the court. I know I was personally grateful to get bonus MJ time, even if it wasn't as special as his time in Chicago.
That's why I have some advice for Allen Iverson, who reportedly is interested in a comeback to the NBA. Don't un-retire, not because I think you don't have it any more or because I don't want to see you play. I bet he still has some nice moments left in his game and I'd like to see them.
But all a comeback is s going to do is catch more grief.
If you consider his size and his to-the-rim game, Iverson was one of the greatest players of all time. And that's how people want to remember him...well, that and the epic "Practice? What are we talking about practice?" rant.
Everything that followed once he left Philadelphia—a nice but not great stint with Denver followed by unenviable stays in Detroit, Memphis, another one in Philly and a trip to Turkey—paled in comparison.
And if he comes back to the league now, it's most likely going to be as a bench player, borderline novelty act, much like Shaq was in Boston or Jordan in Washington or Patrick Ewing in Orlando or Hakeem Olajuwon in Toronto etc.
That's the problem with athletes and fans. We think we know what's best for them. Iverson wants to play NBA basketball again and if he is capable of making a roster and grabbing a few minutes, I think he should go for it. Otherwise he's always going to wonder if he still had more in the tank.
But if he doesn't go for 30 points once in a while or led a club deep[ in the postseason, few people are going to care; worse yet, he'll be maligned by the critics and most of the fanbase.
It comes down to the basic question of who owns their legacy: the athlete or the fans. Iverson may control the decision about whether or not he comes back, but he has no ownership of the legacy.
Right or wrong, the masses outrank (and outshout) him on that front.