Magic to Induct Shaq Into Magic Hall Of Fame

Shaq

John Denton

March 12, 2015

ORLANDO – Larger than life both with his sheer size and his gregarious and playful personality, Shaquille O’Neal changed everything for the Orlando Magic.

A promising NBA expansion franchise that got its start in 1989, the Magic’s fortunes changed forever in 1992 when they drafted O’Neal and rode his massive shoulders – ones occasionally adorned with a Superman cape – to unprecedented heights both on and off the floor.

``Shaq put the Orlando Magic on the map – not just in the state of Florida or in the United States; he was this global phenomenon,’’ said FOX Sports Florida television play-by-play announcer David Steele, one of just three Magic employees to work for the franchise all 26 years of its existence. ``When we traveled, it was like a traveling rock show. Everybody wanted to see Shaq.’’

Because of his massive contributions to the franchise from 1992-96, O’Neal will be inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame at a private ceremony to be held on March 27 at the Amway Center. O’Neal, who turned 43 years old on March 6, will also be honored in front of the fans during the Magic’s home game against the Detroit Pistons that night.

``The Orlando Magic are honored to recognize those who have made significant contributions to our history,’’ Magic CEO Alex Martins said. ``Shaq made a tremendous impact on our franchise during his time with us and we are thrilled to recognize him as our third inductee into the Magic Hall of Fame. He carries on a great legacy of those who made the greatest contribution to the rich history of the Orlando Magic.’’

O’Neal joins Magic founder Pat Williams and former teammate Nick Anderson – the first player ever drafted by Orlando and now a Community Ambassador for the Magic – as the third member of the Magic Hall. Created in 2014 during the franchise’s celebration of its 25th anniversary season, the Magic unveiled their inaugural Hall of Fame class last April.

The Magic Hall of Fame honors and celebrates the great players, coaches and executives who have had a major impact during the team’s illustrious 26-year history. The Magic Hall bridges the past with the future of Magic basketball, and the exhibit, located in Amway Center on the terrace level near Nutrilite Magic Fan Experience, provides Magic fans an opportunity to learn about Magic history while in the state-of-the-art building.

Inductees are selected based on their overall contributions both on and off the court, their years of service, their impact in the community and the general character of the individual.

The Magic will honor O’Neal even though he devastated the franchise on July 19, 1996 when he defected to the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent. O’Neal went on to win four championships – three with the Lakers and a final one with the Miami Heat in 2006. In his illustrious career, ``Shaq’’ was named to 15 All-Star teams, he was the MVP of the NBA Finals and the All-Star Game three times each and he won two scoring titles.

No one could every doubt the massive appeal of O’Neal, both as an awesome physical specimen on the basketball court and a playful prankster off it. Following his selection as the No. 1 pick of the 1992 NBA Draft, O’Neal appeared in 295 regular season games (293 starts) with Orlando, averaging 27.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.79 blocks a game from 1992-96. O'Neal was named an NBA All-Star four times as a member of the Magic, named to the All-NBA Second Team once (1994-95) and All-NBA Third Team twice (1993-94, 1995-96). He was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year following the 1992-93 season – one in which he took the league by storm while averaging 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds a game. That season, O’Neal’s enormous impact was felt in the manner in which he led the Magic to a 20-win improvement and the first .500 record (41-41) in team history.

``My biggest memory was that everything changed when we got Shaq,’’ said Fox Sports Florida analyst Jeff Turner, who played for the Magic from 1989-96 and was a teammate of O’Neal’s for four seasons. ``The way we traveled changed and obviously our level of play changed. Having Shaq made all of us better because he was such a physical force down low and teams had to foul or double-team him every play. It created a different way of playing for us and it made all of us better. For me, he changed the whole face of the franchise.’’

O’Neal ranks among the franchise’s all-time leaders in several categories, including rebounding (second, 3,691), blocked shots (second, 824), field goals made (third, 3,208) and points scored (fifth, 8,019). His 27.2 points per game average is the second-highest in team history. He helped Orlando reach the 1995 NBA Finals and the 1996 East Finals, but he was vanquished by Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon and Chicago’s Michael Jordan and he never was able to bring a championship to Central Florida.

O’Neal is also the franchise leader in another odd statistical category: NBA backboards taken down at two. On Feb. 8 of 1993, O’Neal followed up an Anthony Bowie with a dunk so thunderous that it made the basket stanchion slowly collapse down to near floor level. Then, on April 23, 1993, O’Neal did something even more awe-inspiring by dunking so hard that he broke the backboard down from the support stanchion. O’Neal’s strength was so other-worldly that his backboard-breaking dunk stole the thunder from Anderson, who scored a career-best 50 points that night.

``He brought it down! He brought the whole goal down!!!’’ Steele screamed that night to listeners on the Magic Radio Network.

NBA players are comparatively speaking large human beings, but there was no one quite like O’Neal with his massive 23EEE shoes, legs the size of tree trunks and shoulders that barely squeezed through doors. Turner got to feel O’Neal’s brute strength on several occasions in Magic practices and Steele was there to witness the beatings that he handed out on a nightly basis.

``When Shaq first came to Orlando, we had a luncheon and we all went over to the downtown rec center to just play pick-up basketball. But I was the only big in town and I had to guard him,’’ said the 6-foot-10 Turner. ``I had guarded Daryl Dawkins when he was in New Jersey and Artis Gilmore and I though Shaq was just another big guy. But the first time he picked me up, moved me and dunked on me I was like, `Wait, there’s something special here.’ I tried to stay away from him as much as I could in practice to stay healthy.’’

Added Steele: ``he was just so strong and overpowering and there was no one who could keep him down. The controversy was that if you were a Magic fan you always felt like he was getting fouled all the time and people were hanging all over him and he should shoot 30 free throws a night instead of 15. Then, if you were the other team, all they complained about was how Shaq got away with murder and he was the one dishing out the pain. Depending on your perspective, he had a huge impact on every game.’’

And O’Neal’s bubbly personality – one that he later translated into an acting, rapping and TV analyst career – was just as enormous. Steele said that he can vividly remember O’Neal coming off team busses wearing costumes and wigs as if he could actually fool fans into thinking the 300-and-something-pound player was someone else.

``He was a great teammate and a lot of fun,’’ Turner recalled. ``He kept the locker room loose, but when it was time to play, he played. But in the locker room and traveling he was always the guy pulling the pranks and doing stuff like that. Again, I think he helped me a lot and extended my career because I changed my game to fit him. So he just had such a huge impact on everything he was a part of.’’

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