Standing in the press box at the Staples Center last weekend, covering the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16, I have to admit, it was cool, even for a Boston native, to look up at the banners hanging from the rafters, and see the legendary names. Magic...West...Kareem...Chamberlain. In all, there were eight retired Lakers jerseys, but tonight, Tuesday April 2nd, they're about to add a ninth. Shaq.
You can debate exactly where the Big Retiree ranks in Lakers history. Personally, I'd put him in the top 5, along with Magic, Kareem, Jerry, and, someday, Kobe. But I'm not very objective when it comes to the Diesel. He's one of my favorite athletes of all time.
There's a lot to like about Shaq, starting with his four NBA titles, but for me, it goes beyond the court. His personality is infectious, a big reason why TV networks were lining up for his services before he even retired, and why companies came a'calling, looking for the perfect pitchman.
Here's a guy who, literally, seemed to enjoy every moment of his NBA career, from the games, to the press conferences (yes, a player who actually appreciated the media), to the championship parades. He was only in Cleveland for a year, near the end of his Hall of Fame career, but it was a fun year, albeit it one that, of course, ended without a title.
My lasting memory of Shaq is his first trip back to the "Q" as a member of the Celtics, when he walked into the bowels of the arena, towards the visitors' locker room, and shook everybody's hand along the way. I mean all of us. He was smiling, high-fiving, making us feel good one final time. Quite a contrast to at least one other former Cav, who spend many more years in Cleveland, yet who returned to the "Q" wearing headphones, sunglasses, and a "do not disturb" look on his face.
But this isn't about bashing someone else. It's about saluting Shaq. He will enjoy one more special night at the Staples Center tonight. Only fitting, since he gave everyone else many, many more.
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