Shaquille O'Neal Birthday: Chronicling Big Diesel's Greatest Career Moments

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2012

Shaquille O'Neal Birthday: Chronicling Big Diesel's Greatest Career Moments

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    Shaquille O'Neal is turning 40 today. What a four-decade run it's been. He has a personality and a game as big as his body. 

    If you weren't able to enjoy him during the mid to late 90s and the early part of the 2000s, you missed out on one of the greatest players to ever play. 

    At the end of his career, he was Joe Montana with the Chiefs or Emmitt Smith with the Arizona Cardinals. They were years that just served to take away from the magnitude of his greatness. 

    For a five-year player, he was the single most dominant force in the NBA and the most dominant force in the middle of his generation. The gap between O'Neal and the second best center was huge, even broader than it is today. 

    Here is a brief recap of the highlights of his career. 

Drafted No. 1 Overall

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    When Shaquille O'Neal was drafted, it can only be compared to when LeBron James was drafted, only bigger. In my lifetime of watching basketball, I honestly don't remember a more anticipated draft pick. There wasn't an NBA draft that year; there was just a No. 1 pick and a bunch of other guys going to a bunch of other teams.

    In 1992, Alonzo Mourning was the second player drafted, and he was an afterthought in the wake of O'Neal. 

    As it turned out, there were some other players that turned out with some OK NBA careers as well—Robert Horry, Jim Jackson and Latrell Sprewell to name a few. 

    The big winner, though, was the Orlando Magic, who drafted the center of a generation. He had so much hype that some said he could never live up to it. He exceeded it. 

Wins Rookie of the Year

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    In his rookie year, Shaquille O'Neal immediately let it be known that he was not overhyped. His 22.9 Player Efficiency Rating was the ninth highest by a rookie in NBA history. He averaged 23.4 points and 13.9 boards while hitting .562 from the field in his rookie season, the highest ever by a rookie with at least 20 points per game. 

    He also started the trend of breaking backboards. His strength, size, power and explosiveness were all unleashed in singular, focused fury on dunks, the likes of which had never before been seen. He was an astronomical hit on the court. He was a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year.

Takes Orlando Magic to Finals

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    The following year, the Orlando Magic acquired Penny Hardaway in a draft-day trade. The two became the best point guard-center tandem since the Lakers had Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar running the floor together for the Lakers.

    The team launched to success, and with Michael Jordan still shaking the rust off from his days of playing baseball, the Magic were able to make their way to the NBA finals in 1995. 

    Once there, Shaquille O'Neal had a reality check. He might have been the best young center in the game, but the best center in the game was still Hakeem Olajuwon. O'Neal played well, averaging 28.5 points and 12.5 boards per game. 

    Olajuowon just played better, averaging 32.5 points and 11.5 boards per game.

    While the Magic lost, it was still a big step for the big man in his NBA career to carry his team to the finals.  

Signs with Lakers

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    In 1996, there were some power struggles both with Hardaway, who wanted to be the leader of the team, and coach Brian Hill and O'Neal were also having conflicts. There was also the matter of a seven-year, $121 million contract that was offered by the Lakers. 

    O'Neal said it wasn't about the money. Sure it wasn't. 

    The Lakers were a powerhouse in the West for the next three years, but they weren't able to get to the next level. The furthest they got was in 1998, when they got to the Western Conference Finals before they were ousted by the Utah Jazz in four games. 

    In all three seasons, the Lakers were ousted by the team which would eventually go on to represent the Western Conference in the NBA finals. 

    There were some criticisms of O'Neal, as there were some who wondered whether he really wanted to win a championship. 

The Glory Years, Wins 3 Rings with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson

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    The Lakers hired Phil Jackson as their head coach after the lockout-shortened season of 1999, which saw the Lakers fail yet again. 

    With Jackson's triangle offense and Kobe Bryant providing a much-needed perimeter game, the Lakers were an unstoppable force. 

    There was more of a question as to whether they would lose games on their way to winning the Finals than whether or not they would win it. O'Neal's PER over those three seasons was 29.8, a full three points higher than anyone else in the NBA. 

    He was, by far, the most dominant player in the NBA. He only won one MVP award, but many feel that he deserved at least one, if not two more, in those years. 

    Together O'Neal and Bryant formed the backbone of of one of the greatest teams the NBA has ever see. 

Wins Ring with Wade

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    Shaquile O'Neal was eventually traded away from the Lakes in a move that heavily contentious at the time. 

    With Miami Shquille O'Neal would win another ring, but it was obvious he wasn't as great as he once was. He averaged a double double during the finals, but his role was more of a rebounder and secondary scorer. He averaged just 10 points per game in the finals but did have 13 rebounds. 

    It was probably the last moments where Shaquille O'Neal was seen as a real force in the NBA. The legend had started to fall of his career. 

Scores 25,000 Points

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    I couldn't find a clip of him scoring his 25,000th point, so here's the game where he got the most of them, 61. 

    O'Neal scored his 25,000th in the twilight of his career, if there was even that much light remaining. It came on Feb 7, 2007 against the New York Knicks while he was still with the Miami Heat. 

    Only three players in the history of the NBA—Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone—have more rebounds and points than Shaq. Of those four, only one has more rings. 

    When you factor in the production he had on the court, and the fact that he won four championships and led three different teams to the finals, he has to be considered one of the 10 top players in the history of the game.