LOS ANGELES — Before the Lakers spent an extra-long halftime Tuesday night to send Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey to the rafters, Shaq was telling a story about his first NBA game with his father. That was back when the good seats were $20 a pop and his dad splurged.
“We went to the game and it was terrible. And on my way back he was so upset and he was like, ‘I spent all this damn money and these guys didn’t put on a show’ and he grabbed me and was like, ‘If you ever make it to this level, these parents pay a high price for these kids to come to the game make sure you make it enjoyable. Make sure you put on a show.’
“So that’s why I’ve always tried to be a showman, because I realize it’s real. Especially now when the tickets are very high priced, so I’ve always wanted to put on the show for the people, for the kids, for the dads in the stands.”
Combine that big personality with the big stats and the big rings and you see why Shaq was beloved in Los Angels like few other Lakers. Ever.
Which is one of the reasons Los Angeles rushed his jersey retirement at Staples Center — usually the Lakers don’t put a jersey in the rafters until the players is elected to the Hall of Fame, but as that is a foregone conclusion for the Diesel (or whichever of the hundreds of nicknames he had you want to go with) he had it done Tuesday night.
There were a handful of tributes to Shaq.
Kobe Bryant called Shaq, “The most physically gifted physical specimen I have ever seen play the game” and said he was huge for the city.
“Fun. Fun. Fun. We had some fun,” said Phil Jackson (whose ovation was louder than Shaq’s — best Mike D’Antoni stayed in the locker room for the “we want Phil” chants). Jackson recounted “the day Shaq showed up to practice with just his sneakers on. And late.” Or when he mooned the fans in Sacramento.
Jackson finished by thanking Shaq for his hard work and dedication — which was a nice touch because, let’s be honest, that’s not Shaq’s reputation. But you don’t get to be where Shaq is on the all-time lists without being professional when it matters.
When it was his turn to speak Shaq said his one wish was that Jerry Buss could be there. He thanked Jerry West both for bringing him in and pointing up to the rafters of the old Fabulous Forum (where the Lakers played at the time) and saying if he did things right his name could be up there.
And of course, Shaq was the showman.
“Coach (Jackson) I got a confession to make,” Shaq said. “You gave me a lot of weirdo books to read. I’d like to thank my good friend Cliff Notes for helping me with those.”
The crowd ate it all up. Los Angeles fans always did with Shaq. He’s a showman who fits the Hollywood city like few others ever could.