Earlier this season, I wrote what some would consider to be a ‘scathing’ article about Shaquille O’Neal’s seemingly personal issues with newly-acquired superstar big man, Dwight Howard. As I stated in the previous article, honest assessments and criticisms are entirely fair and precisely what we tune in to TNT’s Inside The NBA for. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be what was taking place at the time, and I was immediately concerned with how things would play out during O’Neal’s eventual jersey retirement ceremony.
Nevertheless, I’m thankful these two giants (in personality and size) have, at the very least, placed their differences aside while speaking publicly. As a lifelong, and loyal supporter of the Purple and Gold, I never enjoy seeing/hearing the organization (or any of its ‘pillars’) cast in a negative light.
In fact, I still get goosebumps when I watch clips of Dr. Buss’ Memorial service, as not only was it a display of generations of excellence and dominance, but it was also a shining example of just how much love and solidarity there is (and always should be) amongst the Lakers’ family tree. Considering the difficult year all of Lakers Nation has endured, now more than ever, is when we must not only honor the past, but stand together while the organization and team find a way back to supremacy.
It’s no secret, but I’ve been a fan of O’Neal’s since his days of playing behind, and eventually alongside LSU’s Stanley Roberts, whom O’Neal has publicly acknowledged as part of what made him the Hall Of Fame player he developed into. From afar, I watched in pure awe, as O’Neal ripped his way through the league and dominated the post as a member of the Orlando Magic. To this day, I can still remember the feeling of bewilderment as I sat and watched the press conference with former-GM Jerry West standing beside a (then) svelte O’Neal holding the Purple and Gold. For the record, this was just two weeks after the Lakers had traded starting center Vlade Divac to the (then) Charlotte Hornets for a lesser-known 17-year-old kid from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania.
Although O’Neal was every bit as impressive in his first three seasons in L.A. (1996-1998), the hiring of head coach Phil Jackson proved to be the pivotal move in redefining O’Neal’s career as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. O’Neal had always been considered the perfect blend of size, brute power, and a mesmerizing amount of agility and grace to go along with it. Jackson was the first coach, according to O’Neal, that was able to help him combine his physical talents with the proper mindset and approach to the game. Prior to Jackson’s arrival, O’Neal and Bryant suffered several disappointing playoff exits at the hands of the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.
Next Page: Shaq Cements Laker Legacy