Shaquille O’Neal came in on Christmas for his only regular season trip to Orlando to take on the Magic for the first time with his newest team, the Boston Celtics. In his 18thseason, O’Neal has adapted his game and has accepted his role with the Celtics no longer being the franchise player and focal point of the team that made him 3-Time NBA Finals MVP, 12-Time All-Star and scored over 28,000 points in his career which ranks him 5thall-time in the NBA but instead now Shaq is a different player, a role player. “When I was on the other teams, I was the CEO and CFO everything ran through me.” said O’Neal on being a role player at this stage of his career. “Now I am just a consultant, I am just a role player and that’s fine at 38, if I was 28 we probably have problems but I am 38 and you know your role changes at 38 but when I was in charge guys know what I did.”
Shaq signed this offseason with the Celtics joining future hall of famers Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in hopes of capturing his fifth ring.“ This team is up there said O’Neal in comparing this team with his Los Angeles Lakers (00, 01, 02) and Miami Heat (06) championship teams. “I am playing with three first ballot hall of famers who are always ready to play and play the right way. We always have certain conversations and are always on each other and have same focus that I have out there for now it’s been good, guys know their role were not worried about individual stats over here on any given night anyone can be our leading scorer we do whatever it takes to win, This is the most unselfish team I ever been on.”
O’Neal has proven to be very valuable as the Celtics are currently own the best record in the Eastern Conference and is once again a strong contender for the NBA Title despite being without last season starting center Kendrick Perkins who has been out all season so far and Jermaine O’Neal who been injured most of the season. “He been phenomenal.” Said Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers on how Shaq has fit in. “He bought in to everything we asked him to do, our pick and roll defense is still good, I think a lot is because where he at in his life. He knows he not one of the big 3 on this team he accepts that, He just wants to win.”
O’Neal still enjoys playing Basketball as much as he did when he was the Magic’s overall number one pick in the 1992 draft but knows that he is in the twilight of his career in a league that’s different from when he came in as he no longer playing with veterans like Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw who moved on to life outside of Basketball. Shaq knows it’s about winning before career come to a close. “Still the same, the game is different. For me it’s all about winning I am trying to win as many as I can. There be a time where I can’t do it anymore and soon I have to be out there with Bo Outlaw and Nick Anderson. ”
O’Neal however does not plan to join his friends Anderson and Outlaw in retirement after this season even if he wins the championship as retirement has not crossed his mind.“I missed 2 ½ years worth of games even though I play 18 years, I actually played 16 years. My role is different I am not taking every shot, I am playing limited minutes If I am with this team and playing like this, I can play two-three more years.”
O’Neal first made his name playing at the Orlando Arena for his first 4 seasons in the league where he help put the Magic on the map reaching the playoffs 3 times (1994-1996) including the franchise’s first Eastern Conference Championship and trip to the NBA Finals in 1995. O’Neal left the Magic for the Lakers in summer of 1996. Now 14 years later, Shaq the Magic and even Arena all have new look as O’Neal got a chance to play at the New Amway Center and was impressed with the Magic new home. “It’s fabulous, fabulous.” O’Neal said. I Think Alex (Martins) and Bob Vanderweide did a great job.”
The Arena O’Neal played in Saturday is new, and his role with Celtics is new, one thing that is still the same in the 18 seasons with Shaq is his frustrations with how he is officiated and that was no different on Christmas as O’Neal in his 13thChristmas Day Game, an NBA High only played 12 minutes and scored 2 points before fouling out. “We have two premier big men out there today. He is pushing, I’m pushing. Let us play.” O’Neal said about officials as him and Magic Center Dwight Howard spent the entire game in foul trouble. “”I guess they (fans) come out to see No. 26 play. He was a great player out there today,” O’Neal said referring to official Bob Delaney. “They paid all that money to see No. 26 come play. My thing is, if you’re going to call it, call it the same way every time. Don’t pick and choose who you are going to call it against.
While people will always debate how Shaq is officiated while Shaq feels they don’t let him play others say they have let him get away with a lot over the years the one thing that is not debated is how opponents view Shaq as they still respect his game.
“Shaq still a force inside.” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said of O’Neal who he coached at Miami for two seasons.” He not going to go 36-38 minutes a game and put up the numbers he used to but for the minutes he in there when they throw the ball in the post he is still somebody to contend with.” He a guy that knows how to play he won championships he knows how to play gives them another great veteran.”
One thing is for sure is that the impact O’Neal has had in Basketball has been enormous as being the face of the league for many years and his humor and personality drawing media attention around him still to this day as everyone was still waiting for him to see what he had to say in postgame following the lost to Magic listening to every word O’Neal would say which lasted as long as he played in the game, 12 minutes and could have gone on for hours if allowed. O’Neal made impact with players in the league that look up to Shaq like Magic’s forward Brandon Bass.
“ Shaq a great person.” Said Bass who gives credit to O’Neal for helping him get through tough times during his tough times early in the league. “ Every time I play against him he sees me he always congratulates me, he remember when I was in New Orleans when I was not playing and he tell me keep working young fella.” Following the Magic win over the Celtics where Bass had one of his best games as an Orlando Magic, one of the first players to congratulate him was none other than O’Neal. “He told me I am proud of you and I appreciated it that cause Shaq was someone I always look up to.”Bass said who played college basketball at same school O’Neal did at LSU acknowledges all players that play at LSU look up to O’Neal. “The world looks up to Shaq; if you go to LSU you have no choice but to look up to him.”
How the Shaq tour ends remains to be seeing but the one thing is for sure regardless how it ends we all benefited and enjoyed the ride he has taken us from LSU to Orlando, then Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston and we may not truly appreciate the journey of one of greatest NBA Players of all time until long after O’Neal has left the stage.
News and Notes
- Dwight Howard was whistled for his 10thtechnical of the season against Celtics which leads the league. 16 technical fouls by a player means an automatic 1 game suspension and an additional one-game suspension for every two technical fouls after that.
- The Magic became the first team in 13 years to end two streaks of 10 or more games in back to back games as they ended Celtics 14 straight wins and Spurs 10 consecutive wins on Thursday.
- Who the big loser from the Magic 2-blockbuster trades on the roster? Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon. Richardson who was a starter for most of the season has played 29 minutes in the 4 games since the trade with 2 DNP’s. Duhon who started the year as backup Point Guard has played 3 minutes in 4 games with 3 DNP’s
- Shaq wasn’t the only person with praise of the new Amway Center. ESPN’s Mike Tirico who called the Celtics-Magic game on ABC, talking to people in the media room and again during the broadcast called the Amway Center, the Best arena in the league.