Is this Shaq’s final year? Forget the debate about him tarnishing his legacy by whoring around the league with any team that has a title shot and will have him – It’s better to remember the past, when he was dominant like few ever were. Before O’Neal begins the “Geriatric Park” adventure with the Celtics here’s a brief look at his career with photos and some words.
Shaq was the creme de la creme of the very promising 1992 NBA draft, with the Orlando Magic winning the magic ball, picking him first. Shaq won rookie of the year, averaging 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game and he became the first rookie since Michael Jordan to be voted as an All-Star starter since Michael Jordan in 1985. The Magic missed the playoffs after a complicated statistical tie-breaker with the Indiana Pacers.
Shaq got the sidekick he needed to make Orlando a contender pretty quickly, as the Magic, against all odds, got the first pick in the lottery, again. They went for Penny Hardaway, and in 1994-1995, their second season together, the duo carried the team into the NBA Finals, brushing away the Bulls with the come-backing Michael Jordan. O’Neal led the league in scoring that season, averaging 29.3 points. He averaged 28 per game during the finals, but the Magic got swept by Hakeem and Drexler, on their way to a repeat.
New Hollywood Star
Four years were enough for Shaq in the small Orlando market. Maybe it was seeing Penny holding the team on his own while Shaq was sidelines – the Magic still finished 60-22. Maybe it was the realization that Michael was back, and the East was lost. Whatever it was, Shaq arrived at LA in 1996, joining the Lakers, averaging 26.2, 28.3 and 26.3 points per game during his first three seasons there, each season being sidelined for at least 20 games. He never made it passed the Western Conference Finals. When Kobe became a true superstar and Phil Jackson arrived, things changed.
Three-Peat – Most Dominant Ever
After The Zen Master’s arrival and Kobe maturing into one of the best guards in the NBA, there was no stopping the Lakers. Shaq was able to stay healthy most of the time during those seasons (missing only 25 games during those title years, nothing for him). He won the NBA’s MVP in 2000, averaging 29.7 points and 13.6 rebounds per game. He averaged 38 points and 16.7 rebounds in the 2000 Finals, winning the Finals MVP as the Lakers beat the Pacers in six games.
2000-2001 : Shaq wins his second Finals MVP, averaging 33 points and 15.8 rebounds as the Lakers beat Allen Iverson and the Sixers 4-1, despite losing the first game after an amazing performance by A.I.
2001-2002: Shaq won his third Finals MVP after sweeping the New Jersey Nets, as Shaq averaged 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game.
End of a Dynasty
After three seasons of absolute bliss (that’s how it looked), the Shaq-Kobe-Jackson empire started deteriorating. They were beaten by the Spurs in the 2003 playoffs and despite signing Karl Malone and Gary Payton, couldn’t win it in 2003-2004, stunned by the super-tough Detroit Pistons in the finals.
Back in Florida, Flash, and a Fourth Ring
Shaq spent three and a half seasons in Miami, teaming up with another sidekick, this time one who was actually better and more important to the team than him, as Shaq was slowly fading away (still is). He had a great 2004-2005, finishing second in the MVP voting behind Steve Nash, averaging 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds, helping the Heat reach the Eastern Finals before losing to the Pistons in seven games. Wade became a real superstar in 2006, and Shaq was there to help him get Miami’s first title, averaging only 13.7 points during the series against the Mavs. Shaq spent half of 2006-2007 injured, and it was clearly time for him to go.
Failed Experiment at Phoenix
The Run n’ Gun style didn’t get Phoenix any titles. So Steve Kerr decided to shake things up, and change the concept – play with an actual big man, and slow things down. An aging Shaq was chosen to be the one who’ll finally help Phoenix beat the Spurs against his old rival, Tim Duncan. Didn’t work. Shaquille managed to stay healthy during his 1.5 seasons in Arizona and had a decent 2008-2009 with 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, but the Suns missed the playoffs that year and again, Shaq was surplus to requirements, traded to the Cavs.
The Cleveland Stop
Shaq was brought to Cleveland in order to be just another piece in a puzzle surrounding LeBron in an attempt to get James his first ring. Oh yeah, and the Cavs’ first title. Didn’t work. Shaq averaged 12 points in 23.4 minutes per game. You can say he did his job. Still, the Cavs, despite finishing with the best record in the NBA for the second straight year, couldn’t beat the Boston Celtics, losing in six games. Shaq’s contract was up – he wanted something around 5-10 million dollars. No one would give him that. So he chose the geriatric ward at Boston for 1.6 million dollars and the chance of tying Kobe’s 5 rings.