Shaquille O’Neal laughs while telling a story during his announcement of his retirement from the National Basketball Association (NBA) at a news conference at his home in Windermere, Florida June 3, 2011.
Basketball star Shaquille Oâ€™Neal, 39, made his retirement official this past week. Saying those words made his pro career full-circle, because it all ended at his home in a suburb of Orlando, the city where his pro days began when the Magic made him the No. 1 pick in 1992. â€œNever thought this day would come,â€ Oâ€™Neal said. â€œFather Time has finally caught up with Shaquille Oâ€™Neal.â€
He indicated that not only will he not return, but he will not coach anyone but his three sons. His career ends with 28,596 points, 13,099 rebounds, 15 All-Star selections, four championships and three NBA Finals MVP awards. He had a $1.4 million option to return to the Boston Celtics next season, but he said he did not want to hold up the teamâ€™s plans several months if he needs Achilles surgery.â€Iâ€™m the luckiest guy in the world,â€ Oâ€™Neal said.
Oâ€™Neal was so moved by Hurricane Katrina that not only did he arrange for tractor-trailers to bring supplies to storm-ravaged New Orleans, he personally went to oversee distribution efforts. And after that, Shaq considered signing with the New Orleans Hornets, thinking his mere presence in the city would help recovery efforts even more, but the deal simply fell through. â€œThis just didnâ€™t happen,â€ his college coach Dale Brown said. â€œThe other thing thatâ€™s very obvious to me is that this should be a beacon, a beacon light for all young people watching this.â€
He was grateful for the Los Angeles Lakers for planning to retire his number 34. â€œI would like to thank the Laker organization for thinking of me,â€ Oâ€™Neal said on ESPN Radioâ€™s â€œMike and Mike in the Morning,â€ adding he spoke Thursday with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and vice president Jeannie Buss. Oâ€™Neal also said on Stephen A. Smithâ€™s radio show that, if elected, he would prefer to enter the Hall of Fame as a Laker.
In the interview, he stated that he believes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be the best to ever play the center position. And, excluding himself from the conversation, he considers Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson to be among the top five centers of all time. â€œJust to have my name mentioned next to those guys is a blessing,â€ Oâ€™Neal said.
His immediate future is uncertain. Heâ€™ll likely work in television, but his health comes first. Injuries derailed him mightily this season with the Celtics, and if his injured Achillesâ€™ doesnâ€™t improve soon, surgery may be an option. â€œIâ€™ve got to get that right,â€ Oâ€™Neal said Friday before the throng of media at his home, â€œbefore I go into the next chapter.â€
Oâ€™Neal said he leaves with some regrets, foremost among them not being able to reach 30,000 points. And while everyone knew what he would say on Friday, he was anxious, something his mother gently chided him for afterward. He was asked toward the end of the ceremony what advice he would give to players today. â€œBe leaders,â€ Oâ€™Neal said, â€œand not followers.â€
â€œItâ€™s time for whatâ€™s next,â€ Oâ€™Neal said. Perhaps Hajj is next for Shaquille, as he expressed in an interview with Turkish television last year. Oâ€™Nealâ€™s mother is a Baptist and stepfather a Muslim. However, in 2002, the Los Angeles Times identified Oâ€™Neal as being Muslim and quoted him as saying, â€œItâ€™s a Muslim thing,â€ with regard to the greetings he exchanged with opposing player Hedo Turkoglu before each game of that yearâ€™s Western Conference Finals series. The newspaper also quoted Turkoglu as saying that he was not surprised at the gesture from Oâ€™Neal â€œbecause Muslim people support each other.â€ Best of luck in whatever you do, Shaquille.