19 years of NBA dominance

On Saturday June 3, 2011 “Superman,” “The Diesel,” “The Big Cactus,” “The Big Aristotle” and now, the self proclaimed name, “The Big AARP,” (Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons) known to many as Shaquille O’ Neal called it quits to a 19 year career in the NBA.

After announcing his plans for retirement via Twitter on June 1, Shaq held his official retirement press conference on June 3 at his home in Orlando, Fla. The Orlando Magic drafted Shaq with the first pick in the 1992 NBA Draft out of LSU, and immediately his presence was felt in the league, winning the 1992-93 rookie of the year award.

Six teams, four Championships, one MVP trophy, three NBA finals MVPs, 15 all-star game appearances, 28,596 points, 13, 099 rebounds and 2, 732 blocks later, the 39-year-old Shaq went down as the most dominant player to ever grace the floors of the NBA.

I’m not calling him the best player to ever play the game. Most people, maybe with the exception of Scottie Pippen, can agree that title would go to the former Chicago Bull and six time finals MVP Michael Jeffrey Jordan, but no player has ever dominated the floor night in and night out the way Shaq was able to do so.

His 7-foot-1inch stature and 325 pound frame combined with his athletic ability and crafty skill set made him a nightmare on the court to guard and officiate. He demanded a double team every time he touched the ball, and in his prime the “Hack a Shaq” technique, where teams just made the decision to foul him because of his horrendous free throw shooting, got teams into the penalty early in games and gave his teammates opportunities at the line.

He was so huge that referees had hard times calling fouls on and against him, and the only players that were big enough to guard him weren’t quick enough while the ones who were quick enough simply weren’t strong enough.

From 99-04 Shaq was without a doubt the best player in the NBA and, had he and Kobe Bryant patched things together and learned to coexist, Shaq would probably be looking at about seven rings on his hands instead of four.

Shaq has some pretty stiff competition with his position, I mean there’s the great Bill Russell, who played 13 seasons and won 11 titles; the great Wilt Chamberlin, who averaged over 50 points a season and scored over 100 points twice; there’s the revolutionary of the infamous “Sky Hook” and the NBA’s all time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Some may even throw in Hakeem ‘The Dream” Olajuwon who beat Shaq and the Magic in the 1995 finals, but honestly I never saw Russell and Chamberlin play, only the black and white highlights. Kareem was a great scorer but simply didn’t dominate the way Shaq did, and Olajawon didn’t possess the size or skill set of Shaq.

As far as all time leaders in points, Shaq probably missed about 5,000 free throws, and if he makes half of them that would have placed him near number three. Combine that with missing over 300 games at averaging over 20 points per game, then Shaq is near number one on the list. Unfortunately, we will never know where Shaq would have ended up on the list, but we do know that when you mention the greatest players you have to mention Shaq. He is probably the only player in NBA history whose career field goal percentage at 58 percent tops his career free throw percentage at a brutal 52.7 percent.

Was Shaq the greatest center of all time? Well that answer is up for debate, but he is definitely in the discussion, and the NBA will probably never see a player of this size and ability again. Shaq leads the NBA with 13 seasons of averaging 20+ points and 10+ rebounds.

Honestly, Shaq walks away as the last dominant big man left in the NBA with the exception of Dwight Howard. Shaq was the last of a dying breed. Toward the end of his career with the Suns, Cavs and Celtics, father time and injuries caught up with Shaq as they do with every player, but on top of that Shaq provided the NBA and its fans with countless NBA memories and excitement. The league’s most dominant figure walks away with no regrets stating in his retirement press conference:

“I did it my way and that’s how I wanted to go out doing it, Shaq’s way, and I think I did that.”