Shaq Wins Phoenix’s First All-Star MVP as West Downs East
Posted: Feb. 15, 2009
If the 2009 NBA All-Star is considered the prom of the league, how better to tip off the celebration than with a dance from its king. Shaquille O’Neal stole the show Sunday, captivating the crowd with his personality and play before, during and after the game as he led the West to a 146-119 victory over the East, while taking home co-MVP honors in front of his home crowd.
Despite a week of speculation regarding the future of O’Neal, forward Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns’ coaching staff, O’Neal seemed unaffected, igniting all of the festivities with some stunning dance moves that would have made “Napoleon Dynamite” jealous.
During player introductions, the charismatic center joined the JabbawockeeZ dance group as they delighted the audience with a two-minute dance performance that was a hybrid of hip-hop, break and interpretive dancing. Fellow co-MVP, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, awarded him an A-plus for routine.
Once inserted into the game for starting center Yao Ming, O’Neal went right to work, notching six points, three rebounds and three assists in the first quarter. Senator John McCain, who was seated courtside, told TNT’s Craig Sager, “I think he’s trying to prove to everybody that he’s still an MVP. He missed his first shot, but I think he made his next eight. Nobody’s stopping him.”
Stoudemire was also electric in his play, dazzling the crowd with an array of dunks on the way to 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the line in the first half. Finding himself in the starting lineup of an All-Star Game for the first time, Stoudemire finished with 19 points and six rebounds on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor.
But the real story of the evening was O’Neal. During the third quarter, he completely took over the game with his inspired play. Besides throwing down a litany of thunderous jams, the Big Cactus moved out to the perimeter and engaged in a little shake-and-bake against Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Besides showing off his handle, he pulled off a nifty give-and-go that resulted in a Shaq dunk, tossed Cleveland’s Mo Williams like a ragdoll when Williams tried to defend him at half court, playfully stared down Boston’s Paul Pierce after Pierce fouled him on a possible breakaway and performed three full chin-ups after a scintillating slam.
And oh yeah, he also did a sterling, yet comical rendition of Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen” on the Suns Vision jumbotron that left the crowd in hysterics. After a one-year layoff from All-Star festivities, it would be safe to say that the Diesel enjoyed a triumphant return, collecting 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and one block in just under 11 minutes.
“It’s nothing that I haven’t seen before,” Bryant said of O’Neal.
With O’Neal and Bryant sharing the contest’s MVP award, it gives them both three All-Star MVPs for their careers. The duo joins Bob Pettit, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only players to have received that honor three or more times.
“The Big Legendaries,” O’Neal said of himself and Bryant. And for his part, the Lakers star seemed content in sharing the award with his former teammate.
“He let me take the trophy home for my boy,” Shaq said of Bryant.
Obviously, the teaming of O’Neal, Bryant and Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson together was a storyline throughout the week, with the combination producing sizzling results. Despite all of the chatter since the two superstars split ways, it was apparent that the pair possessed a familiar chemistry on the court.
It was noticeable to the opponents as well.
“I tell you what, those two guys together, that's a deadly combination as we all saw tonight and we have all seen in the past,'' East coach Mike Brown said.
But neither O’Neal nor Bryant are getting carried away either.
“We’re not going to the room to watch Steel Magnolias or anything,” Bryant said.
It was O’Neal’s 15th All-Star appearance, the most among all active players, but he still trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 18 selections for most all-time. After falling to the East last season, the West received redemption by posting seven players in double figures, led by Bryant’s 27 points.
LeBron James led the East with 20 points, while Pierce and Miami’s Dwyane Wade added 18 apiece. But for everyone witnessing the event, there was a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for what might be the Big Aristotle’s last All-Star appearance.
“The game won’t miss many, but when he decides to unlace his shoes,” James said of O’Neal, “the game will miss him.”
From the dancing, to the singing, to his comical antics and to actual play on the basketball court, O’Neal revisited that moment in his career when he was the NBA. It might not have been his going-away party, but he certainly made a conscious effort to cherish his time on center stage.
“I realize that this might be the last time for me,” he said. “I wanted to do something memorable.”
And that much was clear. The host of the NBA’s greatest celebration entertained his guests like few could, while leaving them with a parting gift of enchanting memories.
Any questions or comments for Suns.com's Stefan Swiat? Click here to send him your comments by e-mail.