Shaq Inducted Into Basketball Hall of Fame

When Shaquille O’Neal was a boy, his stepfather, Sgt. Phil Harris, would quiz him about the great centers of NBA history, particularly Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“In his eyes, these three guys were gods of the game,” O’Neal said in Springfield, Mass., on Friday.

Now, O’Neal can consider himself their peer, as he joined them and others as members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I know that Wilt and my father are in heaven, smiling down upon us,” O’Neal said. “And if I know my father, he’s up there arguing with Wilt Chamberlain right now, trying to convince that his son is the most dominant big man to ever play the game.”

The Newark, N.J., native spent the best years of his 19-year career with the Lakers, helping lead them to three straight titles from 2000-02.

Before that, he spent his first four seasons in Orlando, from 1992-1996, where he quickly began dominating the league, earning an All-Star nod each year while making his mark off the court with projects like his rap album, “Shaq Diesel,” and film, “Kazaam,” in which he played a genie that lived in a boombox.

“After Orlando, I ended up in L.A.,” O’Neal said. “‘Kazaam 2’ was not yet in production, but what was in production was the beginning of a new Laker dynasty. The first few years were not easy, filled with trials and tribulations.

“But (then-General Manager) Jerry West and the Buss Family (in) their objective of rebuilding a dynasty knew exactly what to do: bring in the ‘Zen Master’: Phil Jackson.”

During his eight seasons in Los Angeles, O’Neal was named to seven All-Star teams (one year the game wasn’t held) and took home three NBA Finals MVP trophies as well as the 2000 regular-season MVP award.

The 7-foot-1, 325-pound giant led the league in scoring with 29.7 points per game in that 2000 campaign, while also pacing the NBA in field goal percentage six times.

During his induction speech, O’Neal — who has the second-most blocks (1,278) and second-highest scoring average (27.0) in franchise history — thanked many from his time in Los Angeles, including Robert Horry, Brian Shaw, Rick Fox, Horace Grant, Tyronn Lue, Devean George, Gary Vitti, Mike Penberthy, Del Harris, Jeanie Buss and Kobe Bryant.

Regarding the last of that group, O’Neal made light of his relationship with Bryant, as the pair powered the Lakers’ three-peat but were later entrenched in a highly-publicized feud with one another.

“(Bryant is) a guy that would push me and help me win three titles in a row,” O’Neal said. “He also helped me get pushed off the team and traded to Miami.”

O’Neal later won his fourth title with the Heat in 2006 before playing brief stints with Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston.

He is currently seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (28,596), and also ranks 14th in rebounds (13,099), eighth in blocks (2,732) and fourth in field goal percentage (58.2).

Even such gaudy numbers speak only partially to how dominant O’Neal was, which was further attested to by a fellow member of the 2016 Hall of Fame class — former rival Yao Ming.

“A great athlete not only has great teammates, but also great opponents,” Yao said in his induction speech. “A great opponent pushed me (and) pushed us forward — great opponents like Shaquille O’Neal. Every game we played reminded me of the old saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

In addition to Shaq and Yao, the class also featured Zelmo Beaty, Darrell Garretson, Tom Izzy, John McLendon, Cumberland Posey, Jerry Reinsdorf, Sheryl Swoopes and another former adversary: Allen Iverson.

“I can’t leave without bringing up Shaq,” Iverson said in his speech. “I love him so much as a person. Obviously the most dominant big man we’ve ever seen, ever.”

O’Neal was accompanied on stage by Alonzo Mourning, Isiah Thomas, Julius Irving and one of the members of his father’s list: Russell.

Toward the end of his speech and with Russell by his side, O’Neal paid one more tribute to the man who taught him the game.

“When a father is quizzing his son on the great big men of the game,” O’Neal said. “hopefully Shaquille O’Neal’s name will be in the answer.”