Shaquille O'Neal Calls It Quits

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After 19 years in the NBA, Shaquille O'Neal is retiring from basketball. (AP)
After 19 years in the NBA, Shaquille O'Neal is retiring from basketball. (AP)

Athletes retire everyday.

But upon their retirements, most athletes are not remembered for being a genie in the movies, or recording songs, or riding around in a police car to explore the possibility of a career change, or pretending to be a statue.

They are not remembered for having dozens of nicknames, some of them self-inflicted, ranging from "Shaq Diesel" to "The Big Aristotle" and "The Big Agave." And when most athletes retire, fans do not fall all over each other suggesting new nicknames for the retiree, such as "The Big Shuffleboard."

In his prime, Shaquille O'Neal was a marvel. He was an enormous presence under the basket and he loomed in the media, too. His view seemed to be that part of his responsibility as a very large and very wealthy professional basketball player was to entertain people. In pro sports, winning is the point, and Shaquille O'Neal won all sorts of distinctions. He was the NBA's first overall pick in 1992, and he validated the choice by becoming the league's rookie of the year. He won an MVP Award and was selected to the All-Star Team fifteen times. Most significantly, teams for which he played won four championships.

And he couldn't shoot free throws to save his life, which proved that except for being over seven feet tall, weighing three hundred twenty five pounds, and being extremely wealthy, he was just another guy.

During the final years of his long career, Shaquille O'Neal bounced from team to team as general manager after general manager gambled on getting one more shining season out of him. He will be remembered in Boston for his body's failure to live up to the promise of his wit. Except for a brief and stirring stretch during the regular season, he limped from injury to injury. The promise that he would be a factor in the playoffs stumbled with him to the bench on a bad leg.

But like Babe Ruth, who also ended his career with a lousy season in Boston, Shaquille O'Neal deserves to be remembered for his impact on the game over a long career, and for the joy fans derived not only from his performance, but from his persona. When Ruth did retire, he hoped to continue in baseball as a manager. According to those who knew him, the great and lasting disappointment of his life was that the Yankees never called him home to run the team he'd helped to build into a colossus. This, apparently, will not be the case with Shaquille O'Neal. Asked after he announced that he'd played his final game whether he might like to go into coaching, O'Neal said, "No way. If I had to deal with players like me, I wouldn't make it as a coach."

This segment aired on June 4, 2011.


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