published Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Wiedmer: Shaq retires as one of NBA’s best

It took 19 NBA seasons, but The Diesel's finally run out of fuel.

Breaking in the new social media tool Tout on Wednesday, Shaquille O'Neal told his many fans, “I'm about to retire. Love you. Talk to you soon.”

The official announcement will apparently come Friday from his Florida mansion in Isleworth, the gated community that's also home to Tiger Woods.

But with the second game of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks on tap for tonight — and O'Neal having won the last of his four championship rings as a member of the Heat against the Mavs five years ago — what better time to tout his place among the NBA's all-time greats?

After all, you just don't finish with the fifth highest point total in league history, (28,595), the 12th most rebounds (13,099), the aforementioned four rings and carry three different franchises to the NBA Finals without earning at least a mention in the conversation for the best player ever.

That doesn’t mean I think Shaq Daddy, Superman, the Big Aristotle or any number of other nicknames O'Neal has called himself over the years should claim a spot alongside Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson on the NBA's version of Mount Rushmore.

All three of those guys have more rings, and all three could shoot free throws, a not-so-tiny O'Neal deficiency that led to the infamous Hack-a-Shaq strategy toward the end of his career.

Not to be picky with this Greatest Ever stuff, but if you can't be on the court in the final minutes of an NBA playoff game because you can’t hit a foul shot, are you really one of the four or five best players ever?

Beyond that, if you’re gifted enough to be fifth in scoring and you stand 7-1 and weigh 325, shouldn't you also finish in the top 10 in rebounds?

So if not Shaq, who should be in the hunt for the fourth best NBA player ever? How about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six titles, six regular-season MVP awards) Kobe Bryant (five titles), or LeBron James, who is yet to win one, but is proving throughout these playoffs that he certainly has the game to force himself into that mix if he can claim at least two rings.

Still, in Shaq we’re talking about a guy who twice led the league in scoring with averages of more than 29 points without being able to shoot free throws — six times he shot below 50 percent for a season.

We’re also talking about a guy who could have broken half the guys he played against in two, yet never lost his cool, despite constant pushing, grabbing and hacking from all comers.

Said James in a tweet on Wednesday of his former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate: “The most dominating force to ever play the game. Great person to be around, as well. Comedy all the time!!”

And there were times when you wondered if Shaq’s insistence on having a good time — “I tried to make people happy and tried to have fun … I think I did both,” he told ESPN — may have denied him a couple of titles.

Shaq unquestionably shattered the notion that nice guys finish last, but he doesn't necessarily leave the game with the legacy that he couldn't have done more, a concept that was never mentioned in the same sentence with Russell or Jordan.

Yet he did more than most and always did it with an electric smile that shouted, “Don't you wish you were having as much fun as I am?”

Even his Tout was an opportunity for Shaq to later joke, “I am the emperor of the social media network.”

What he may have been for the vast majority of his 19 seasons was the sort of global emperor the NBA desperately needed to transition from MJ to LeBron.

Or as commissioner David Stern noted, “For 19 seasons, Shaquille O’Neal was literally and figuratively an NBA giant.”

Now let’s just hope TNT is smart enough to seat this gentle giant next to Sir Charles Barkley in a television studio next season — a couple of emperors in XXL clothes talking the NBA down to size.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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johnmayers said...

The Best Guy in the middle retires .... we will miss you Shaq ..... Can't wait for Game 2 to begin, Hope the Mavs make an comeback. Found some tickets for the finals here, check it out if someone needs them. http://goo.gl/DLWwm

June 2, 2011 at 7:20 a.m.
MountainJoe said...

No love for Larry Bird as one of the top 4-5 NBA players ever? Gimme a break. His career was intertwined with Magic Johnson's from the time they were in the NCAA finals together, and the showdowns between the Celtics and Lakers in the 80s were "Legend"ary. If Magic is on the all-time all-star team (and he should be) then Larry needs to be there alongside him. Shaq was great in his own way, but he's not even in the top five centers ever, let alone the top five players. And LeBron? Let him win a championship or two before further consideration.

June 2, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.
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