Shaq, I’ll Miss Those Free Throws

ShaqParliament opened this past week with the Stephen Harper majority government and the Jack Layton led opposition.  For political watchers, it was a bit like a Super Bowl but for me, I listen to the opening of parliament on my satellite radio safely ensconced in my tractor.  Spring has come late to southwestern Ontario the year and it seems to be taking forever to get a crop in.

So if you are expecting a breakdown of what that means for ordinary Canadians, I’m afraid you’re getting a pass this week.  You see, there was another shattering event in my media life last week that I thought I should write about.  One of the most spectacular basketball players I ever saw decided to hang up the sneakers.  Shaquille O’Neal, one of, if not the greatest center ever to play in the NBA announced his retirement. As a lifelong basketball fan I hated to see him go.  He’s been playing ball for 19 years and now he said that father time had finally caught up with him.

Shaquille O’Neal was a fascinating basketball player because he had the rare combination of size, strength and athleticism that were wonderful to watch. Shaquille O’Neal is 7’1″ and 330 pounds.  When he came into the league 19 years ago, it suddenly made fighting for rebounds not a fair fight.  He dominated in the post area more so than almost any big man ever to play the game.  I have seen a lot of the greats players like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  However Shaquille O’Neal was the player I like the best.

The reason I like Shaquille O’Neal so much is that when he came into the league he was a great physical specimen who dominated the physical part of the game, but not much else.  In other words, if he got the ball one or 2 feet away from the basket, he dominated like nobody else.  It was almost scary.  However he needed a lot of improvement in his game to be the best ever.  In fact in first couple years he was schooled in the NBA finals by Hall of Famer Akeem Olajumwan.

He got better and better, using his physical size in all kinds of extraordinary ways to become a better basketball player. He also turned into a bit of a pop icon, while always maintaining his brilliant sense of humor.  He had names like Shaq Fu, the big Aristotle, Diesel and especially Superman.  It was always great fun for the fans, a great athlete not taking himself too seriously.  At his press conference announcing his retirement he said he’ll know call himself the big AARP.

He finished his career with 28,596 points, 13,099 rebounds, 15 All-Star selections, four championship rings and three NBA finals MVP awards.  He truly had an amazing career and I do not think the world will see such a dominating big man in the NBA game for many years to come.

It just so happens that your loyal scribe saw Shaquille O’Neal play as a rookie Orlando at the Palace of Auburn Hills.  I remember very clearly thinking that this player was going to be an all-time great.  Shortly after that I saw a collector’s plate at a local jewelry store, which had been signed by the rookie Shaquille O’Neal.  That plate overlooks my office today, as it has for the last 19 years.

What’s next for Shaquille O’Neal?  Who knows?  He certainly isn’t perfect but one thing I’ve always appreciated about him was his quest for education.  Shaquille O’Neal has a Masters degree and by the end of this year he will have attained his PhD from Barry University in Miami Florida.  So at that time, we will have to call him Dr. Shaq.  So sure, he has made millions of dollars, which modern-day professional athletes make, but at the same time he has had his nose to the grindstone learning more and more as well as all those charitable donations that have filtered out within the greater community where he has lived.  Something tells me we have not heard the end of Dr. Shaq.

I certainly don’t have much in common with Shaquille O’Neal other than a Masters degree and my love for basketball.  However, if someday by some off chance we met, I’d love to sit down and chat.  We probably have much to talk about.  Who knows, maybe the opening of parliament might be in the mix.