O'Neal Closes His Career in Typical Shaq Fashion

BOSTON – It’s only one name, two words, or 16 characters, but those minimal descriptors don’t diminish the size and impact of “Shaquille O’Neal.”

O’Neal, who today announced his retirement from the NBA after 19 memorable seasons, was a member of the Celtics organization for less than 10 months but still managed to change the aura surrounding the team. His immense presence was felt at every body of water he chose to dip his toes into.

From Day 1 with Boston, which arrived on Aug. 4, 2010, O’Neal set the tone with his larger-than-life personality. He showed up to his introductory press conference six days after signing his contract and wore a suit that was complimented by a tightly-knotted bow tie. If anyone didn’t already have an understanding that Shaq likes to do things his own way, they realized it quickly.

Fittingly enough, he went out in his own fashion, too. Shaq became the first major pro athlete to announce his retirement via Twitter on Wednesday. He did so by posting a video – which was hosted on yet another social network – that thanked fans for their years of support.

On Friday, he hosted a retirement news conference and party at his home in Orlando, Fla. Media members were invited from all over the country to attend the event, and he did not disappoint.

Not only did he provide access to his home and a catered lunch for everyone in attendance, he also showcased the depth of his immeasurable personality. Shaq’s opening statement, which lasted exactly five minutes, thanked those who contributed to his successful development as a basketball player and a person, but he also managed to sneak in some jokes and poked fun at himself.

“I’m going to miss a lot about the game,” he said. “I’m going to miss the competition, the camaraderie, the friendship, the fans, joking with the media… and I’m really going to miss the free throws.”

That was just one of his jokes that led to bursts of laughter during his opening comments.

Friday’s self-hosted news conference was certainly not the first time O’Neal garnered national attention during his tenure with the Celtics. He chose to delve into several unique, yet delightfully entertaining, circumstances in Boston.

In late December, Shaq broke out his bow tie look for a second time in New England when he accepted an invite to direct the famous Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. He took the stage and directed the famous orchestra in eloquent fashion while wearing a tuxedo and bow tie. The video of his performance has been viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube.

O’Neal has been known throughout his career for his interaction with the community, and he did not disappoint on fulfilling that reputation in Boston. On top of his appearance with the Boston Pops, the Big AARP, as he would like to now be called, also made random acts of Shaqness at Cheers (to sing “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”), Harvard Square (to pose as a statue) and plenty of other locations.

His off-the-court antics didn’t come unexpected. Shaq has embraced public appearances for nearly two full decades now to become arguably the most recognizable sports figure in the world. There is a heightened level of attention paid to everywhere he steps foot. That includes on the court, where O’Neal made considerable contributions to the Celtics while he was healthy this season.

With Kendrick Perkins shelved for the first half of the season after offseason knee surgery, Boston turned to O’Neal as the incumbent starting center. Not many believed he could perform at a high level as he pushed 40 years of age, but he proved those doubters wrong.

Shaq hopped out of the gates to average 12.8 PPG and 7.6 RPG for the C’s in November while opening up the lane for Rajon Rondo to terrify opponents with his record-setting assist totals. He played – and played exceptionally well – in 35 of Boston’s first 47 games of the season while hanging among the league leaders in field goal percentage.

The on-court contributions disappeared shortly thereafter when the big man suffered an injury to his right leg on Feb. 1 in Sacramento. The injury was originally believed to be temporary, but as the weeks and months wore on, it became painfully obvious that his services could not be relied upon.

Boston was able to send O’Neal back onto the court only three more times over the remainder of the season despite months of therapy, which included methods that Shaq himself did not ever think he would consider.

“I tried, and I just couldn’t pull it off,” said O’Neal. “I even did things that my father always told me never to do. He said, ‘Never get the (painkiller) shot.’ But I wanted to play so bad, I wanted to help Boston so bad [that I took several them].”

Needless to say, in his final season as a professional athlete, O’Neal gave it all in his attempt to bring Banner 18 to the Celtics organization. It was a short stay for Shaq in Boston, but he embraced his time here as much as anyone could have hoped.

O’Neal played only 37 of his 1,207 career regular season games in a Celtics uniform, but that didn’t prevent him from singling out the organization by saying that it was “very, very good” to him. He also made sure to thank Doc Rivers with the following comment.

“Playing for Doc Rivers this year was very, very special,” he said, “because we had a lot of talent on the team, but Doc Rivers always, always, always was focused on the team."

Shaq did everything in his power to help the team succeed this season, and he did so with a smile and sense of humor that's unparalleled. Though it was a trying season that was marred by a substantial injury that will now require surgery, Boston should remember the aura that O’Neal brought to the Celtics organization.

Shaq dipped his toes in many aspects of New England, leaving himself and others with memories that will last forever. He’ll now move on to dip those enormous toes, which sit at the end of his size-20 feet, into many more arenas as he embarks on the rest of his life. It’s safe to say we’ll enjoy watching his future unfold as much as we did his illustrious career.