Shaquille O'Neal's NBA career is over, but he's probably far from exiting the public spotlight. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
I wanted to say something about the retirement of Shaquille O'Neal, because Shaq has been a hugely prominent figure in my life as a sports fan. Basketball was probably my first favorite sport, simply because it was the easiest to pick up and play. When Shaq hit the NBA, I was at just the right age. He seemed to instantly legitimize the idea of the baby franchise Orlando Magic, and quickly led them to an NBA Finals, where of course Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets tore them up, but hey.
Over the years, I watched as O'Neal got bigger -- both in star power and on the scales. He wound up leaving more than his mark on the sport, though -- winning championships, being one of the very biggest sports stars on the planet, dominating when healthy and focused.
It always used to bother me that O'Neal basically forfeited a very good chance to be the single most dominant physical presence in NBA history. His size, power, and athleticism could have made him truly unstoppable. But Shaq put on weight, had some health problems, and as great as he was -- and he was great -- he never quite got there.
That doesn't bother me anymore. The older I get, the more I've realized that Shaquille O'Neal's entire life isn't basketball. He made great money. He had a great career. And along the way, he had his fun, making movies and albums and video games and commercials and all kinds of other crap. There's more to life than a career, even if you're a big-time basketball star with a huge contract.
Maybe someday it will bother him that he didn't do more in basketball, but I doubt it. It might bother him more that he never made Kazaam 2.
Shortly after hearing about his retirement today, I couldn't help thinking of the episode of "Shaq Vs" that saw O'Neal "fight" Oscar de la Hoya in one of the most ridiculous-looking things I've ever seen on television, and I mean that in a nice way. It was fun. It was even funny. And I thought it showed something important for both men -- Oscar and Shaq had a flair for show business and even the silly, which separated them from most of their contemporaries. Even when some didn't understand what they were doing, they made it work, one way or another. They became cultural icons not because they were great at their sports (which they were), but because they grew outside of their sports. Few do that. Few have the ability.
The full video of their exhibition is after the jump. And farewell, Shaq. Enjoy retirement. As a basketball fan, I will only regret that you helped Kobe Bryant get into terrible discussions where people compare him to Michael Jordan.