Shaquille O’Neal announced his retirement without any fan fare. He didn’t have a press conference during the middle of the playoffs to announce the date of a future press conference (like his Airness did). He did it from a computer chair in his home and uploaded it to the web. It was amazing. It was honest. It was unique. It was memorable. It was just like his career. I’m not going to go crazy here and make a long post about a guy who had 16 different 30+ point games against our Utah Jazz. He’s was a great player, and the most dominant player of his era. But more than that, he was the zenith for the current NBA celebrity. Endorsements were getting more and more regular in the days of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Dr. J. However, endorsements eclipsed NBA salaries in the Jordan years. It made a new change in the marriage between marketing and making baskets. David Stern smugly smiled all the way to the bank as his product was sold hand in hand with non-alcoholic drinks, shoes, sportswear, and much more. While Jordan was (more or less) focused on the game and being the best ever at one slice of the pie; Shaq dominated the entire pie (the game, marketing, money making, music, movies, commercials) like he dominated the paint in his prime.
Shaq was like Mike in that he had ads all over the world, but he did him one better by signing exclusive contracts to the biggest companies in emerging markets. Mike was Nike, McDonald’s, Hanes, and Gatorade. Shaq had everything from Pepsi, to Taco Bell, to Chinese companies that own their own markets. But even more than global branding Shaq was the capstone, the cumulative development of years and years, of NBA Entertainment. Kids loved him. Teenage and young adult women took pictures with him in a mall. Old people may not have known about Tim Duncan, but they knew about Shaq. He was everywhere. He was everything.
He had transcended the game to become the event. It did not matter if he played well. It did not matter if his team won. Everyone won if they got to see Shaq in his element. Shaq doing his own (for his own enjoyment) TV show as a rookie (cannibalizing Dennis Scott in the process), to doing performance art on a college campus in his last season. He was the full spectrum of what David Stern wanted to sell his product: a highly charismatic figure, larger than life, with the championship credentials to propel the league to greater heights in the post Jordan years. I recognized this as he just destroyed it during the All-Star player introductions years ago.
Bill Russell was too focused. Wilt too abrasive. Kareem too worried about his legacy. None of them would have done what Shaq could do, what Shaq did do in that video. Magic had the smile and the laugh. Jordan had the production team. Still, they couldn’t move like he could. Dwight is big and loveable, but he’s the Soulja Boy to Shaq’s Biggie. Shaq is a star, like Ziller said. Perhaps that honorific is still too dull to fully extol all of his virtues.
I think Shaq is right when he says he’s the Most Dominant Ever. (MDE) The problem is that we didn’t judge Shaq on what he was doing, we were judging Shaq on what we thought he should do. Was Shaq the greatest basketball player ever? He doesn’t have the most rings or points. But as far as media saturation, q rating, mass appeal and image – he is the MDE of the NBA. He’s not the logo. He’s not Mike. Right now as Kobe Bryant continues to inch closer to replacing Jordan in the minds of many no one can approach Shaq Diesel. For what he was doing, no one did it better. And we should remember him for what he did, and not harp on what he didn’t do.
After all, Hakeem never got up on stage to ask Patrick Ewing how his
ass [Bot-ocks] tastes. But Shaq did that to Kobe. I will cheer for him forever because of that.