Big Honor for Big LSU Star
By: Dennis Rogers,
September 13, 2011

On a sunny Thursday evening on the campus of Louisiana State University one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game was honored with a 900-pound bronze statue likeness of himself dunking the basketball. Shaquille ONeal stood in awe in front of a gigantic purple and gold Superman banner as he helped pull the white drape off the bronze statue and witnessed the much talked about newest edition in front of LSUs mens basketball practice facility.

"I don't think anything will compare to this day, ONeal said. I am very humbled and honored. I am going to say this a million times, but there could have been a lot of other guys that LSU could have made a statue of. I am just blessed and honored that they chose me. They almost caught me off guard with how big the statue was. This right here will probably be in the top two moments of my life. I have won a lot of championships and awards but I don't think it compares to this day."

Shaq came to LSU from Cole High School in San Antonio, Texas where he was a standout center being recruited by numerous elite college programs. The selling point on going to LSU came at one specific moment during an LSU football game.

"Coach (Dale) Brown and the staff decided to bring me to a football game and they announced my name, ONeal said. At the time, I didn't realize that people in Baton Rouge knew who I was and then the stadium went crazy. I was like man I like this and that was why I decided to come to LSU."

He knew then, that Baton Rouge would be a special place in his heart and he would meet many people in Louisianas capital city that he would call family.

"The great thing about Baton Rouge is the people are so friendly, the campus is so lively, the nightlife is great," O'Neal said. "I have to say, besides my parents raising me, it's really the people of Louisiana who've made me who I am today."

ONeal played three seasons at LSU under legendary coach Dale Brown. He was a two-time All-American, two-time SEC player of the year and received the Adolph Rupp Trophy as NCAA mens basketball player of the year in 1991. When Shaq describes his time at LSU, he fondly talks about how close he was to Coach Brown and how much Brown will always be a part of his life.

A lot of people don't know this but when I had to call Coach Brown and tell him I didn't think I wanted to come back (after his junior season) that was one of the hardest days of my life because if I leave Coach Brown there will be no more Tiger Town, no more Sports on Thursday, no more football games, no more tailgating, no more crawfish, ONeal explained. There would be no more fun. Now I've got to go to work. I really got to take this accounting class I fooled around in and go to work. That was a very, very difficult phone call. That was a very difficult decision. I promised my mom I would come back and finish my degree and I did seven years later. I went to summer school each year and I always try to make one football game each year.

During the ceremony and the ensuing press conference, ONeal kept hammering home how humble and honored he was of the statue. He also talked about his eagerness to continue to give back to Baton Rouge and come back to LSU as often as he can.

"Coach (Trent) Johnson, he's doing a fabulous job of bringing us all back together, ONeal said of the current mens basketball coach. That means everyone that has ever played here at LSU. A couple of years ago he did an anniversary (100th anniversary of the first game), I couldn't make it, but all the guys were here. They sent me emails, they sent me pictures. I would like us (former players) to all get together on a yearly basis here at LSU.

Louisiana is a very special state filled with great food, activities, sights and people. It is no surprise, that when Shaq looks back at his time in Louisiana and specifically, LSU, he speaks fondly. It also, doesnt surprise you, that the 71 325-pound center mentions the good food.

"My favorite memory playing at LSU is coming out and hearing those horns and looking up and just seeing the whole city behind us," O'Neal said to the crowd witnessing the ceremony. "Win or lose, behind us. The only thing I regret is not being able to give LSU a national championship. ... That's the only thing I regret because you guys have given me so much, especially those shrimp poboys."

Now that ONeal has officially retired from the NBA, what is next? Most fans of the likeable four-time NBA champion always know he is up to something. WellONeal revealed he has been working the past four years toward earning his doctorate from LSU. He said he is almost done with his dissertation, entitled, The Duality of Humor and Aggression in Leadership Styles. Unfortunately I will no longer answer to Shaq, youll have to call me Dr. ONeal, ONeal joked to the crowd of reporters.

As the memorable night came to a close, ONeal gave it one more opportunity to tell the fans, former LSU players (over 30 came out to show their support to Shaq), LSU dignitaries and many special people who have touched ONeals life his true feelings of LSU and Baton Rouge.

When people ask me why I come back to LSU and Baton Rouge to give back, I tell them I am not returning, I am coming home.

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