The headline to this post is one of the greatest lines ever uttered to me during an interview. You probably don’t even have to guess from whom it came.
I could go on a Shaqilicious rampage here, but I had my time and so did Shaquille O’Neal. Since he announced his retirement from pro ball, appropriately enough on Twitter, there already has been much written about his place in NBA history and his abundant nicknames. I just wanted to drop a few personal memories and acknowledge that it required Shaq’s retirement to prod me out of my mini-retirement from the blogosphere.
Way back when I was still a newspaper writer, I wrote a large piece about Shaq as an emerging crossover star (see Welcome to ShaqWorld). He hadn’t even won his first NBA title, though he’d dropped his first recorded verse and filmed an ill-fated movie. This was during a time when a writer could earn big-time access to superstars, and I hung around him for a few days in El-Lay.
With Shaq, there was no breaking-in period. The first day we were supposed to hook up after a Lakers practice in El Segundo, I was listening to coach Phil Jackson when I … left the ground. Shaq had picked me up like a rag doll. “Let’s go,” he said in that basso profundo, half-whisper of his.
I have some stories that I guess I’ll just keep between me and the Big Aristotle (my favorite Shaq-name). However, that half-whisper of his is part of one of my all-time favorite, mass interview moments. This was during the 1995 NBA Finals, Shaq’s first, between his Orlando Magic and the Houston Rockets. A group of us, not large by today’s standards, were staged around Shaq, as I recall, outside so it was at times difficult to hear him.
Suddenly, Kelly Carter, the don’t-take-no-stuff writer then for USA Today, offered, “Shaquille, you need to quit mumbling.”
At which point Shaq smiled that tilted smile of his, cleared his throat and bumped up his volume.
Yes, in professional sports there have been few bigger than life than Shaq Diesel. Certainly, there have been few, if any, professional athletes who’ve allowed such a human public persona.