Posted Nov 9 2010 5:51PM
DALLAS -- The questions and opinions kept coming from a stationary bike-riding Shaquille O'Neal inside the barbershop that is the Celtics locker room.
The topic that occupied most of the Big Shamrock's attention, and therefore the room's, had to do with retired numbers. What are the prerequisites? How long? How much?
Names were thrown out for debate. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce chimed in with yays or nays. It's not looking good for you Penny Hardaway, no offense. Shaq wondered aloud about the chances of No. 34 going up with the Lakers ... before Pau Gasol.
That he's wondering about his legacy, even half-joking, is another sign the end is around the bend. Or as Shaq reminded yet again, retirement is about 700 days away.
"When I get my radio talkshow," Shaq told Allen with a grin the size of one of his biceps, "I'll be busting you up."
As his legs churned and sweat beaded off his bald head, Shaq never slowed down. We're mainly talking about his mouth. Somehow, though, the biggest personality the game has known for the last two decades doesn't dominate this locker room. Everyone is equal in the barbershop.
"You should see us on the bus and outside," Jermaine O'Neal, another newcomer and former franchise stud. "Guys kind of mellow out in here, but when we walk outside it's like a comedy show. Guys really appreciate each other."
Shaq blends in a space occupied by fellow giants of the game. He may be the oldest player in the league at 38, with four titles and an MVP on the ledger, but he's also the new guy. A minimum contract guy at that. Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett are Hall of Fame bound. Rajon Rondo may be there, too, someday.
When it comes to their contributions to Celtic Mystique, it's a blowout. The KG-Ray-Paul-Rondo foursome has secured its place in the hearts of Bostonians. Heck, Big Baby has meant more to the franchise. Shaq just wants to make a few people laugh.
And win another ring.
These Celtics are his best and last chance. Shaq could play a part in an 18th banner inside the Garden, but he won't be the part. He also won't be the reason the Celts don't win. The issues that have followed O'Neal from city to city weren't packed for Beantown.
There are no reasons for petty jealousies. See: Kobe, D-Wade, Penny. No questions of role. See: LeBron, Nash. No contracts to play for. See: everywhere.
Shaq won't be a distraction because the rest of the Celtics, along with Doc Rivers, won't let him. It's not that they won't tolerate it, because the potential for drama exists within any team, especially one with as many strong personalities as Boston.
It's just that since leaving Los Angeles, Shaq hasn't come to a team with a comparable level of experience and accomplishment. The Heat didn't have it. Nether did the Suns or Cavaliers. The Celtics do.
"So many guys here have been in position where they're the face of franchises," Jermaine O'Neal said. "We've been through ups and downs, and weren't able to do it by ourselves. So coming to a team where you have a lot of really good players makes it easier because you've been on the other side of the spectrum."
Those personalities are exactly the reason Shaq 6.0 can work. The rest of the Celtics see Shaq for what he is. They can ignore him if need be. If he became a locker room cancer for even a second, the line to put Shaq in his place starts to the left of Pierce and ends with KG. Or they can laugh right along with the Green Monster.
Rivers told Shaq this summer that 30 minutes a night weren't going to be there, so don't bother asking. They were talking 20-25 minutes off the bench. General manager Danny Ainge told Shaq they weren't interested in his asking price of $8-10 million per season. At the $1.3 million, Boston and Shaq married.
Shaq didn't play Monday night against the Mavericks, the fifth straight game he's missed with knee and shin issues. The Celtics didn't miss a beat, playing the same game they've played for the last three years. If it wasn't for a few breakdowns in the last few minutes, they would have won their fifth straight without Shaq.
He could be back on the floor Thursday in Miami, the other spot where jersey retirement is a debate. No telling what Ray and Paul have to say.
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