Shaquille O’Neal said goodbye to the NBA in the way we should all remember him, with a laugh and a smile.
He started his official retirement press conference — broadcast live on NBA TV — by somebody handing him a cell phone, saying a few words, then telling the media it was the Knicks asking if he would come up and interview for the Knicks job.
He was smiling and laughing the whole time, talking about his 19 years in the league, four rings and certain Hall of Fame credentials. He was comfortable discussing it all.
He sounded like a man who could walk away from the game because he had somewhere to walk to.
Shaq said his competitive fire had him wanting to come back, but the only way was surgery and a nine-month (at least) rehab. Which even if he had the surgery now might mean a post All-Star game return at best. While Shaq had the second year option on his contract, he said he could not do that to the Celtics.
“I didn’t want to let that happen what happened last year,” Shaq said of the Celtics waiting on his return.
But after that it was all about having fun. He joked about missing shooting free throws. He joked about his nicknames.
“In light of today, I am retiring all my nicknames. The Big Aristotle, Shaq-Fu, The Big Shamrock, The Big Cactus, The Diesel, and finally, the one and only, original, never to be duplicated or replicated Superman,” he said. “From now on, you can call me The Big AARP — Association for the Advancements of Retired Persons.”
There was a huge spread of food and he wanted to hang out and just talk with friends in the media. Even after he joked about having wanted to smack Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless around. (I think we’ve all felt that way at times.)
Shaq laughed off the idea he might coach.
“The only people I’ll coach are my three sons,” he said. “I’ve been coaching the last three summers and I am the Phil Jackson of little league around here. I’m like 36-0.”
Shaq laughed about a lot of things. He was having fun with this. But he had his serious moments too, talking about his parents and his desire to be a good father.
Shaq talked about his legacy, admitting he could have gotten more out of his talents but adding that in the end his name was mentioned in sentences with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain and that’s all he could ask.
He also threw down the gauntlet to Dwight Howard, saying he was the only dominant center left and he would be “disappointed” if Howard didn’t have three or four rings someday.
He talked about leaving Orlando.
“Businesswise I had a better offer in Los Angeles, at the time they didn’t match it,” Shaq said. “I didn’t want to go back and forth… Plus a lot of other selfish reasons, movies and stuff like that that I thought was best for me.”
In the end, the press conference was a lot like Shaq — memorable and fun. And that’s a good legacy to have.