In 10-15 years, how will we remember Shaquille O’Neal’s basketball days? A great player, one of the most dominant centers ever? Or more of an entertainer; A player who speaks his mind, smartly or not, about anything offered up to him; An annoying basketball analyst; A media mogul?
Shaq was always more than just a basketball player. Not talking about his ability and dominance. A hall of fame inductee from the first moment he stepped on the NBA court. He was chosen to the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history after three seasons in the league. He was that impressive on the court.
Of course, like many great players, it took time till he started winning titles. He needed the right team around him, eventually coming in the form of Phil Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers, resulting in a three-peat, and Shaq winning three Finals MVP award, when he was at his ‘most dominant ever’ period.
But when you think of purely basketball, Shaq usually isn’t the first, second or third center that comes to mind. He was that big off the court and has such a magnetic personality, that it’s hard to think of him as just a player. From the start he seemed to be in interested than a whole lot more than just basketball. He wanted, and succeeded, in becoming a brand.
The movies, the Rap CDs and later on, well, everything. Shaq was never content with just being a basketball star. Not a shy or modest man, O’Neal made the most of his time in the NBA spotlight, getting endorsements from every possible field and market – Shoes (Reebok), Drinks (Pepsi) and Dove just to name a few.
Like most aging players, Shaq’s hunt for a fifth ring while playing well below what people remembered him for and what some expected of him, hurt his image and current status among basketball fans. You always need a few years of perspective to help you actually figure out how good a player was and where he belongs on the all-time lists. O’Neal’s performances with the TNT cast isn’t winning him too many fans.
But it’s hard to join a winning crew as the outsider, and it’s hard finding your place in the world after your career is over. For someone who always seemed to be a born entertainer, actually doing TV work makes him look like a very big fish out of the water. Maybe it takes some time; maybe this isn’t the gig for him. O’Neal was a great player, but unlike other great men, he will me remembered just as much for his show off the court, going along with Hall of Fame career.