Suns Remember Shaquille O'Neal
Posted: June 3, 2011
Even though his time in Phoenix only lasted 103 regular-season games, that was more than enough time for Shaquille O'Neal to leave his indelible mark on the Valley of the Sun.
Much like he did in his five other NBA stops over his 19-year career, “The Big Shaqtus” provided the Suns with All-Star credentials at center. When he wasn’t drawing double-teams under the basket, making life difficult for opposing centers off the glass, or adding to his Hall of Fame resume, he was providing his unique brand of energy and enthusiasm which will forever be a part of Suns lore.
Suns.com caught up with a few members of the franchise who offered up their thoughts on the future Hall of Famer, who announced his retirement from the game on Friday.
SUNS VICE PRESIDENT OF PLAYER PROGRAMS/FORMER CENTER MARK WEST:
"Playing against him, the one thing I remember most is him coming into this building and pulling down our backboard. The hydraulics went out, and it just flooded down. That was impressive. I had seen Oliver Miller dunk on that thing a million times and then to see it just give in and fold… In my opinion, he’s one of the greatest centers to play the game. And I’ve seen a few. I’ve been fortunate to play against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone, and Shaq certainly fits in that pantheon of centers and the greatest players to play the game.
"It takes a great mindset to be an elite center in this league. For him, he was a physical freak of nature. He’s 7-foot-1 and 300-odd lbs. and he was as athletic as some threes on the court. He could run full sprint. When he was young, he could run all day. He was extremely agile. You used to have centers who were just huge, like Artis Gilmore and Arvydas Sabonis. Nobody moved like Shaq. That’s like comparing an elephant to a cat. They were terrific players, but his athletic ability combined with his size was incredible.
"He had that demeanor of wanting to win. There were plenty times he was coming at me with that shoulder down and throwing that elbow. You duck or you lose teeth. He had that kind of disposition. He was a great guy who’d knock your teeth out and then pick you up. He’d give you the shirt off his back to the guy who’d plant you on the floor if you got in his way to the basket.
"For all the accolades he got as a basketball player, he was an even better person. He has one of those personalities where people just gravitate to him. Here’s a 7-foot, 300-lb. guy who dances on a stage. People didn’t even mind him diving into the stands. He’s a big cat. I’ve been on the floor with him. He can hurt you without even trying. But the fans loved him for it. And he loved the fans as much as they loved him."
SUNS HEAD COACH ALVIN GENTRY:
"I don’t know if anyone will have any more impact on the game than he has. Look at the championships he’s won, his rookie season when he took them to the NBA Finals, he goes to L.A. and wins multiple championships, goes to Miami and wins a championship… When they start talking about the greatest players in the NBA and the greatest centers in the NBA, I don’t know why he wouldn’t be right there in the mix.
"He is unbelievably competitive. He was a great teammate and an easy guy to coach. He’s such a dominant personality. He challenges guys. He really helped Robin Lopez by challenging him and telling him things that would benefit him down the line about being competitive and standing his ground. Things like that really helped Robin.
"His numbers here were very good. I thought he got a bad rap when we didn’t make the playoffs. That wasn’t his fault. He put up good numbers and averaged almost 19 points and 10 rebounds for us. We still led the league in scoring, led the league in three-point shooting and led the league in field-goal percentage. The only thing that hurt us was the free-throw shooting, but he more than made up for that with his presence in the lane.
"People forget this guy was a great athlete. There were plays where he would rebound the basketball, dribble it all the way downcourt, give it up and get a teammate a layup. He did it with us. There was a play with Steve Nash when he was running the wing and Shaq got him the ball on the middle of the floor with a bounce pass for a layup. Commentators were saying that was backwards. People usually do that for him.
He changed the game, just like Wilt Chamberlain did, by being so overpowering. Shaq was quick, strong and unbelievably athletic. He was almost impossible to guard."
SUNS GENERAL MANAGER/FORMER CAVALIERS ASSISTANT GM LANCE BLANKS:
"He has a great personality both on and off the court. We always felt he did what needed to be done when it needed to be done. Whether that was having the right mentality or attitude or saying the right things, he was a lot of fun to work with and try and win a title with.
"We were extremely excited to get him. He brought wit with him, along with plenty of experience in the league. He was a treat to work with.
"He’s one of the best to ever play the game. When you put his size in context and what he was able to do for the number of years he did it, you have to rate him up with the best that ever played."