Shaq’s presence in the NBA will be missed

Music albums. Movie posters. A life-size cardboard cutout. Basketball cards. You name it. If it had Shaquille O’Neal‘s name or face on it, I bought it.

O’Neal announced Tuesday on Twitter that he was retiring from the NBA. Oddly enough for me, that was almost one year to the day of Ken Griffey Jr. doing that. I think I’ve wrote this before, but growing up, I’d say if the four athletes on my “Mount Rushmore of sports idols,” were Shaq, Griffey, Kirby Puckett and Kevin Garnett.

Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O'Neal burst onto the NBA scene with the Orlando Magic. Associated Press

I’ll never forget seeing Shaq on TV tear down the backboard with a thunderous, jaw-dropping dunk against New Jersey in his rookie year while he played with the Orlando Magic. I was enamored with him from that day forward. Prior to that, I didn’t care much for the NBA. That quickly changed.  

As great as he was on the court, his personality might have been the trait that drew people to root for him. I’ve heard some were annoyed by his tendency to give himself nicknames, but I think it was just Shaq being Shaq. I think it was genuine; it wasn’t a bit.

I followed the Magic throughout the mid-1990s and have fond memories of the team’s run to the 1995 NBA Finals. There was quite a few Sunday afternoons during my teenage years when I would pick up some Subway or McDonald’s and sit in front of the TV to watch the “NBA on NBC,” which the Magic were featured quite frequently during that time.

The great thing about Shaq during his Orlando days was how great of an athlete he was for being 7-foot-1 and around 300 pounds. Back with the Magic, he could really get up and down the court.

I could probably name the entire 12-man roster that got the Magic to the Finals against Houston. Let’s give it a shot: Shaq, Penny, Dennis Scott, Nick Anderson, Horace Grant, Donald Royal, Tree Rollins, Brian Shaw, Anthony Avent … OK, I got nine. That ain’t bad. (I had to look it up after those nine. Can’t believe I forgot Anthony Bowie!)

Once Shaq left Orlando for the Lakers, I decided to stay loyal to the Magic. I didn’t harbor any resentment toward Shaq. Ultimately, I just couldn’t be a Lakers fan. Eventually, I quit the Magic too. I still rooted for him to some degree and was happy to see him win a few NBA titles.

Nowadays, I don’t watch much NBA. But I will miss seeing Shaq on the court. However, anyone who has followed the Diesel’s career knows he’s not going to disappear entirely.