The Los Angeles Lakers’ fan base is a passionate one and as it turns out, a very forgiving one as well.
There was once a time that many Lakers fans held the position that the Los Angeles Lakers organization should not retire Shaquille O’ Neal’s jersey and not because of his accomplishments on the court during his times as a Laker; we all should agree that the 3 championships, dominating performances on the court and 3 final MVPs are undeniably worthy of the honor. They held this position because of the way Shaq handled himself during his final season with the Lakers and the few years that followed his trade to Miami.
He once yelled in the direction of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss during a preseason game back in 2003,
“Now you gonna pay me?”
Shaq was referring to his demand for a 100 million dollar contract extension. A contract he never received from the Lakers.
Shaq indirectly ripped Phil Jackson, the coach that led him to his first NBA championship and then led him to 2 more, by praising then Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley by calling him
“the best coach I’ve ever had.”
The amount of hateful words that Shaq spit in the direction of Kobe Bryant after their break up are too many to mention. For a long time, Shaq didn’t even mention Kobe by name but instead as “the other guy.” The most memorable one though was caught on a video of Shaq rapping some pretty disparaging lyrics about Kobe when he asked the question,
“Kobe, tell me how my as* taste.”
Even the city of Los Angeles laid victim to Shaq’s animosity after being traded away. When doing an interview in Miami during his time with the team, Shaq called Los Angeles a
“real, real, fake place” and further insulted the city by stating that Miami was “a more real place.”
These are just a few examples of Shaq’s behavior leading up to and shortly after his trade from the Lakers. To put it simply, Shaq acted like a petulant child that didn’t get his way when he left and pouted to anybody that would listen. He unfairly took out his hostility on Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, Dr. Jerry Buss and the entire City of Los Angeles. While they were just words from Shaq, they were hurtful and disrespectful to a city and organization that beloved the big guy during his tenure as a Los Angeles Laker.
Shaq disrespected the Lakers organization that had given Shaq so much: his 121 million/7 year contract, his 88.5 million dollar contract extension, the big stage of Los Angeles, acquiring the right pieces around him that gave him the opportunity to become a 3 time NBA champion. It is these things that the Lakers organization provided that built Shaq’s legacy.
This only illustrates a small sample of the behavior from Shaq and with good reason many were angry as a result of it. Understandably, many wanted to deny him the moment he experienced last night at Staples.
I wasn’t quite in the Shaq should never have his jersey retired camp, but felt that a significant amount of time needed to pass before the ceremonial raising of his jersey to the rafters with the other Lakers’ legends should take place. I thought maybe the best time would be when Shaq was old and decrepit because only then would he become a sympathetic figure in Los Angeles.
Almost 10 years have passed and looking back now you can almost understand Shaq’s contempt for the organization. The city and team that he loved broke his heart by letting him go for someone else. It wasn’t just anybody else; it was Kobe Bryant, a player he butted heads with well before his departure and who the organization ultimately chose over him. Anybody that has had their heart ripped out by a loved one can relate. He reacted like many humans do to rejection, spitefully. But like many relationships gone sour, time healed the wounds on both sides.
It was emotional, not personal. I get it now and I think by the response that Shaq received last night during his ceremony at halftime by the Staples Center crowd, the rest of the Lakers’ fans get it too.
Shaq’s resentment towards the Buss family, Lakers organization, City of Los Angeles and even Kobe has faded. He and L.A. can now just focus on reflecting on the great times together without the mess that followed which for a long time clouded the great memories.
Those memories are so vividly clear and now we can thank Shaq for…
His dominating regular season MVP award in 1999-2000 where he missed out by just one vote of becoming a unanimous selection.
The alley-oop dunk from Kobe to Shaq in the closing moments of game 7 to seal the come from behind victory in the conference finals against the Portland Trailblazers.
The 61 he dropped on the Clippers on this Birthday.
The colorful speeches at each of the championship celebrations down Figueroa.
That big goofs smile and electric personality.
And of course thankful for, as Jeannie Buss put it last night right before unveiling his jersey in the rafters, “…most of all, the winning.”
Yes, the winning. 3 NBA Championships and 4 Final appearances in 5 years.
Shaq is forever immortalized in Lakers lore. His jersey now hangs with the other of the greatest Lakers ever to dawn the uniform and 3 of the Lakers championship banners that he helped raise. It is where Shaq belongs and this was the absolute perfect time to celebrate it.