Shaquille O'Neal announced his retirement after 19 years this afternoon via Twitter.
In this era of athletes wanting to avoid the media and "speak directly" to their fans, clearly O'Neal is the biggest name to go the digital route to say goodbye.
"The Big Aristotle", one of Shaq's many self-proclaimed nicknames, had a one of a kind personality, and while he may be welcoming in a new way to say goodbye, his disappearance from the court spells perhaps a bigger loss to the NBA, the back-to-the-basket center.
It goes without saying that it's much easier to hit a 6-inch lay-up than an 18-foot jumper, but somewhere along the line, the art of playing in the paint has gone the way of the ABA. When Shaq got the ball in the paint, you could almost put the points on the board immediately, he managed to lead the league in field goal percentage 10 times, and never shot worse than the 56.2% of his rookie year in Orlando. If it wasn't for his infamous struggles at the foul line (darn those 15-foot shots!), he might have been better than his 18-20 point average in his prime.
7-footers like Dirk Nowitzki would rather step out and take a fade away jump shot than twist on their pivot foot and posterize a defender with a monster jam. Sure it looks pretty when it works, and with Dirk it happens a lot, but it's hardly a sure thing.
Playing at the rim is tough battle, with plenty of scars, many of which were evident as O'Neal began to slow towards the end of his 8-year Lakers run, and certainly with Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston. The life span of a non-driving guard can go longer than a center to be sure.
Will Shaq pay a toll for his wars with Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson? Absolutely. Just look at how slow Julius Erving, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar moved afterwards. Being 7-feet tall you have to carry a lot of weight, even before you slam 250-pound frames against each other for 40-plus minutes a night.
The quest is on to find the next Michael Jordan. Is it Kobe? Is it LeBron? Is it some 12-year-old playing AAU ball that we haven't met yet?
I personally wonder when we'll find the next Shaquille O'Neal.
Dwight Howard might be the closest thing the NBA has to O'Neal at this point, but Shaq was such an impressive and imposing specimen under the rim to a point "Superman" hasn't yet reached. Perhaps the problem is the lack of a foil. These were the top 5 FG% players this season: Nene, Howard, Emeka Okafor, Marcin Gortat, and Al Horford. All are 6'10 or above, but with the exception of Howard, none are major stars.
O'Neal was a star, perhaps the last of a dying breed. When O'Neal debuted in 1992 Prodigy and CompuServe were the dominant on-line companies for anyone who had dial-up modems, and the idea that someone would use the World Wide Web to make a major announcement was something out of Star Trek. Here's hoping we don't need a DeLorean to find another true offensive center, basketball is not better without them.
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