With 15-time All-Star Center Shaquille O’Neal joining the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics, what does that mean for his legacy as a Laker? Many fans in Los Angeles have suggested that the Lakers should not retire his number. Others, and radio hosts, have argued that his number be retired. No matter where you fall on the issue, Shaq’s “place” in Los Angeles Lakers’ lore is somewhat uncertain.
The Lakers only retire numbers of Hall of Fame players.
In general, O’Neal fits the bill for the Hall of Fame. 15 All-star selections. 11 Feature Films. 6 NBA Finals. 4 titles. The driving force behind the Lakers’ first-ever 3-peat. 3 NBA Finals MVP’s. 2 Scoring Titles. 1 Olympic Gold Medal. 1 ROY. 1 MVP. 1 Platinum Rap Album.
All-time, O’Neal will go down as one of the best big men in NBA history. O’Neal is 2nd in field goal percentage, 5th in scoring, 7th in blocks, and 14th in rebounds (12th by early next season).
Looking at the Lakers’ rafters of Staples Center, where I sit quite often, you see Jerry West (44), Elgin Baylor (22), Gail Goodrich (25), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33), Magic Johnson (32), and James Worthy (42). A few years ago, another banner was added, one to honor George Mikan (99) and his 5 titles with the Minneapolis Lakers. Eventually, you will see Kobe Bryant’s jersey up there too, but will it be #8, #24 or both?
But, first it will be Shaq’s turn.
These great players are all joined by the mark they left on the NBA and the Lakers. Each player also delivered at least one title. 4 of 7 are top 25 in scoring—West, Baylor, Jabbar, and Chamberlain. 3 are top 25 in rebounding—Baylor, Chamberlain, and Jabbar. 2 are top 25 in assists—West and Magic. 2 are top 25 in steals per game—West and Magic.
Shaq falls behind the great Jabbar and Chamberlain in all-time scoring, Wilt 4th and Shaq 5th. Shaq trails only Jabbar in blocked shots. To his credit, Shaq (2nd) has a higher field goal percentage than any retired Lakers’ player with 58.1% (Jabbar 10th and Chamberlain 22nd).
I believe there is absolutely no question, then, that Shaquille O’Neal deserves to be both in the Hall of Fame and get his number retired by the Los Angeles Lakers.
What no one can really control is how the people of Los Angeles will perceive Shaq. There have been so many factors over the years:
- The Break-up. Like a spouse after a bitter break-up, most L.A. fans still harbour resentment towards O’Neal for pushing for the Lakers to trade him to the Miami Heat (if that’s really how it went down).
- How does my **** taste, Kobe? Some dislike O’Neal for his post-2008 Finals rap, where he verbally attacked Kobe Bryant, making fun of him for losing to the Celtics. The rap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UziUhf1ukw
- Like Elephants, Lakers Don’t Forget. Even in his moments of elation, Bryant could not pass up the chance to take a shot at Shaq: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BcRBtvxlCs
- Shaq throws Phil under the Bus. After hearing Jackson’s usual media-jabs after the ’06 Heat title, Shaq questioned Jackson’s earnest. “How can Benedict Arnold be reliable in what he says?” (Shaqquotes.com), Shaq said about Jackson. This is one of many times Shaq has taken a jab at Phil Jackson.
- Shaq throws Buss under one. This is a funny one. Buss has helped the Lakers win 10 titles and Arison has helped the Heat win 1. Buss has also helped the Lakers to 16 Finals appearances in 31 years. “I didn’t need motivation,” O’Neal said. “I needed a real owner like Micky Arison, not a guy that parties with girls three times [younger than him] — when you’re 60, hang out with 60-year-olds, not 20-year-olds. You can quote me on that. I’ve got nothing else to say about Jerry Buss” (Shaqquotes.com). It’s not like I’m going to say that what Shaq says about the girls is incorrect (because it’s not). The point is that no matter whom Buss chooses to date or what he chooses to do, nothing has stopped him from being the best NBA basketball team owner of the modern era.
Clearly, the Lakers should retire O’Neal’s number. But, that does not mean that all is forgiven in Lakerland. Fans and the organization will always hold a grudge against Shaq for his post-Laker behavior and negative comments against the organization, it’s owner, coach, and star player, Kobe Bryant.
By the way, Shaq, that “side-kick,” who you once called “a joke,” Kobe Bryant, has earned himself something Shaq will never have—a statue outside the Lakers’ gym.
Now, O’Neal’s latest violation of joining the Boston Celtics has certainly poisoned the well even further, but he should be safe from Laker-fan-fire unless he should be so lucky as to win a title with the green team.
So, is Shaq worthy of the…
Hall of Fame?
Lakers Retiring number #34?
Lakers and Lakers’ fans fawning all over Shaq, again?
Not going to happen
(except for a few moments during the ceremony).
R.S. De France is a College and University instructor of English Composition. He has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing. One of his life-long pursuits has been writing and covering anything related to sports, specifically the NBA. Recently, De France, his wife, and another colleague started an internationally read magazine at Shwibly.com.