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At his incredible 70,000 square foot mansion in Orlando, Florida on Friday, Shaquille O’ Neal announced his retirement from professional basketball after 19 successful seasons in the league.
Nobody can help but like Shaq. He is one of the most popular players in league history, unarguably the biggest character in professional sports history, and of course was a phenom on the court. He will forever rank among the best players ever to grace a basketball court in the way that he changed the way the game was played in his time in the NBA.
His numbers speak for himself. He has incredible accolades that could be written about for pages and pages, and have been over the past few days, but that is not what this article will be about. Too many people seem to be focusing on what Shaquille did on the court, and it is incredibly deserved, but I want to focus on the person Shaquille O’ Neal, which even transcends the player.
As expected, he was incredibly jovial leading up to the press conference, dancing in the background of the camera shot before the actual conference even began. Always a consummate entertainer, he had a smile on his face the entire time leading up to the big speech, making everyone believe this would be another slew of silly moments out of Shaq for possibly the last time. He has us fooled.
Never have I seen Shaq nervous in front of a camera throughout my entire life of watching him. Today was different. He obviously had a lot invested in today, in his speech, and in his career.
Shaq’s mother Lucille made the introduction for seven-foot son on Shaq’s private basketball court turned podium, an homage to the impact she had on both his career and his life growing up.
She then handed the microphone to Dale Brown, the man that originally recruited and coached Shaq at Louisiana State University. Shaq often refers to brown as one of the biggest helping hands he had in shaping his career, and Brown seemed both sincere and deserving of such praise. He too wanted to focus on what Shaq did off the court, the things that nobody knew or talked about, but should know.
Brown spoke about Shaq’s incredible parenting which goes far too unnoticed. He spoke about his lack of violations or problems off the court throughout his entire career, a sparkling record (even serving as a sherrif at one point in Miami, Florida). Lastly he touched on Shaq’s stress of the importance of education, which came from his parents. Little did everyone know that Shaq is not just a monster athlete, but he led his team in GPA at LSU, and has already obtained a Masters degree, and is now working on his Doctorate in Human Resource Development from Barry University in Miami.
This man works to the best of his abilities, no matter the task, and should be incredibly respected for it.
The diesel finally made his anticipated arrival to the podium and of course, made his first quick joke about being the new GM of the New York Knicks. Of course, everybody laughed. Though he was lighthearted, the tone was serious, incredibly thankful, and appreciative to all of those who had helped him along the way. It was evident that Shaq really wanted to let everybody know how much they really meant to him, giving countless thanks to everyone down to the security guards at the stadiums he played at along the way.
He of course spoke about the fun he had with the media in his time in the NBA en route to officially retiring every one of his many nicknames, and moving on to only one: “The Big AARP.”
He also gave himself his own plug, one fans should be incredibly excited about, in hinting that he will field calls from various television networks should they have interest in putting him in front of a camera, and giving him a career as an analyst, something I, and many other fans would love to see. The more Shaq, the better.
Shaq took a bunch of questions, telling heartfelt stories about his life and career as a basketball player, father, and role model. His emotion was obviously bittewrsweet, but he didn’t cry on camera for effect and he didn’t draw the conference out longer than it needed to be. It was never about him, it was about his fans and the people around him. He wanted to throw a party for everybody else celebrating his illustrious career. “It’s about you guys, I wanted to host you guys and thank you personally,” Shaq said in some of the closing words of the conference.
To me, this day summed up Shaquille O’ Neal in just a few minutes.
Humble, happy, sincere, professional, thankful, the list goes on and on, but one thing is for certain, Shaq is the utmost role model for not only basketball players, but all people, young and old, to look up to. Never have I seen an athlete like him on or off the court, and he will be very missed around the league for a long time.
What will he do now? Rapper, actor, investor, coach, analyst, doctor? He of course has a plethora of options (even later hinting at having a hand in bringing an NFL team to Los Angeles), but I have no doubt that he will have incredibly deserved success in whatever he should choose. Good luck to Shaquille O’ Neal, my favorite athlete of all time.