The Age of Shaquarius

MIAMI – He was comfortable in his own skin.

This is hard for big men, especially the biggest of the big. People who stand seven feet tall are so unusual, rising above the rest of us, there is never a moment of anonymity. Many know the pain of rejection from those who recoil, or attack, based solely on what they perceive a big man to be.

Shaquille O’Neal owned his size, made it an ally. For within his 7-foot-1, 300-(325-? 350-? 375-? after a while we were all guessing) pound frame was a 12-year-old, laughing and joking and rapping and doing terrible, terrible movies that all had the same theme: don’t fear me. And for most of his 19 NBA seasons, he was the same way in the locker room, buying a truck for Mark Madsen here, inviting Keyon Dooling out for family dinners there. At the beginning of their careers, when they were picked first and second in the 1992 Draft, Shaq and Alonzo Mourning were fierce rivals, bulls in a small pen seeking the same rewards; by 2006, they were Miami Heat teammates and fast friends, winning a championship together under Pat Riley.

He was a proud man and easily wounded by criticism, real and imagined, and this is why he and Kobe Bryant ultimately couldn’t co-exist, because Bryant’s words stung at Shaq’s base — you’re not working hard enough. He was wounded when the Lakers thought an old Vlade Divac could replace a middle-aged Shaq, and it motivated him to a title on South Beach.

He is no worse than fourth on the all-time centers list, behind Russell, Wilt and Kareem, a smidge ahead of Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan, the MDE, as he called himself — Most Dominant Ever — of his generation. His destruction of Dikembe Mutombo, who just happened to be one of the great defensive centers of all time, in the 2001 NBA Finals is as complete a performance as I have ever seen.

But I will always remember Shaq in the interview room, and the locker room, in clubs and restaurants, forever accessible, cracking all of us up with jokes and double-entrendre-laced humor (he once called himself “The Big Sewer” for scatological reasons that cannot be disclosed on a family website). He laughed easily and often, and he was a great teammate. The last time I spoke with him was during the Celtics-Heat series. He was in the trainer’s room, injured again with a bad calf and ankle, and didn’t want to come out to talk to the media before Game 2. But he opened the door and let me stand next to it, asking questions seemingly to the air, but ones he could hear and answer.

“I just don’t want to let the fellas down,” he said, knowing that time was running out on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, because time had run out on him, a career that straddled two decades and defined them. It was the Age of Shaquarius.

10 Comments

  1. Keith says:

    Hakeem is better than Shaq. Ask Shaq and he’ll tell you the same thing. Shaq was amazing to watch, though and is certainly in the top 5 somewhere…

  2. i sure do hope that Shaq didn’t bite the Orlando Sentinel bait by LA at that time when he’s in Orlando and we could have seen a ringless kobe man tat would have been awesome! and Shaq with 4 rings 3 with orlando and 1 with some random team

  3. LAKEShow says:

    we do need to get rid of the “All Time” category as much as it is like taking the level of the ancient form of NBA to today’s standards. and in order to restore credibility to these sport’s writers and “experts” we need to draw the line of the post modern NBA to the modern form of the NBA today. and that line should be in the before and after the shot clock era. and then redo the list of the greatest players and categorize them in those eras. that way there will be nobody laughing or HOFer’s scratching their heads to these really messed up rankings of the supposedly greatest basketball players of the time

    like Kareem is the greatest player of the “Easy” version of the NBA and “Shaq” is the greatest player in the “Expert” mode of the NBA

  4. who the F would bring up that barbershop topic about Wilt and Kareem? duh not a fan here but comeon. reveiw the tapes (if any) and ask the barbershop for witnesses of the greatness of Wilt and Kareem. the hoop of that time is 9 feet tall and Wilt and Kareem was the only 7 footers at that time. and they we’re playing litteraly a kid’s game. no 3 seconds no shot clock no offensive fouls so if your’e big? you can just shove the opponent’s center who barely averages 6’5″

    comeon. stop talking about that record like it was made in today’s NBA with today’s difficulty rating. bring those two in their prime and put them in the 85-95 NBA and watch them get owned. heck barkley would make them kiss the floor on a daily basis. and they would not even par with olajuwon and robinson. i sincerly believe that most of today’s HOF’ers are only saying they are the greatest because it is the safest thing to say. but Jordan is the Greatest Player who ever played the game. and the NBA acknowledges that.

    and we should also accept the truth that Shaq is the Greatest center who has ever played the game.

    dont give me that 11 ring crap. heck 9 teams filled with undersized with no athleticism players and only 2 bigmen. Russ and Wilt. and the rest are 6’5 sumthings.

    Shaq is number 1 alltime center there is. and if you dont agree with us? then you must been listening to all that barbershop crap

  5. World B Free says:

    SHAQUARIUS!!! LOL… Is there any word we can’t add to Shaq! It’s Shaq-Tastic!!

  6. leo boy says:

    He is one of the greatest players in the NBA, on of the best centers that evr played here in the NBA , he is an NBA icon and everybody love him http://sportales.com/basketball/top-ten-greatest-nba-centers-of-all-time/ i hope that shaq could play again in the all star game just like majic and jordan.. Love you shaq.

  7. Shaq says:

    I guess we all hoped Shaquarius continues, but like all things, must come to an end.
    We will all remember Shaq as being MDE, to some even BCE (Best Center Ever), I even wanna name my first child “Shaq” after him.

    For me, definitely BCE… I laugh while seeing others try to imitate/accomplish what he achieved, and can’t see nobody taking his place.
    To all the centers out in the NBA and the others to come : There is One Shaq, and it AINT you !!

  8. Ash says:

    Compaired to shaq everony else is a joke, get real 4th.

  9. _Ebony_ says:

    Great peace!

  10. proof-reading required says:

    A copy and paste error apparent.