Shaquille O'Neal, 15-time NBA All-Star and 15,000-time changer of his own nickname, is coming to Boston. And to celebrate the occasion, Shaq wants a new moniker. Something singularly Bostonian to signify that he'll be spending the final two years of his decorated career in green.
"hello green town," O'Neal Tweeted on Wednesday night to his 3 million-plus followers. "ok what u got 4 nicknames? make um good."
Oh, will we ever.
This will be fun. It's time to devise a nickname for O'Neal that fits the player he is today — no longer the superpower he was back in his 1990s glory days, but still a super personality. He's not an All-Star, but he brings All-Star celebrity status.
Gone are the days when we remembered Shaq as "Superman," the name he picked up in his early years with the Orlando Magic, as he quickly became known for his physical prowess and his power. Those days are well in the past — we've now bestowed another young Magic center with that moniker.
Forget "Diesel" — Shaq doesn't have that kind of fuel anymore. He's tamer in his latter years.
"Wilt Chamberneezy?" Don't be silly. Wilt churned out career averages of 30 points and 23 rebounds. The world was his oyster. Shaq considers it a good night if he can produce half that.
"The Big Aristotle?" "The Big Felon?" "The Big Deporter?" He's certainly big, no argument there. But neither philosophy, crime, nor the expulsion of foreigners to their homelands seems to be one of Shaq's strengths these days. No — we need something uniquely now, and something uniquely Boston.
OK, let's be honest. What we really need is a nickname that reflects Shaq's current status in basketball. He's a forgotten free agent picked up in August, a minimum-salary player, and a guy who might ultimately end up second or even third at center on Doc Rivers' depth chart.
So what kind of nickname sums that up?
Let's try these.
Shaq was the one who originally nicknamed Paul Pierce "The Truth." In 2001, he pulled a reporter aside after a Celtics-Lakers game and emphatically declared Pierce, then 23, to be "the [expletive] truth." It stuck.
But what is Shaq? He's not quite true anymore, not at age 38. He's a half-truth. He's a statement that you can't quite fully believe. He's what you get when you bend the truth, tinker with it a little bit. He's an embellishment.
Glen Davis is Big Baby, and Shaq, similarly, is an LSU graduate and a monstrously large presence in the low post. Shouldn't they have matching nicknames? And if Baby's 6-foot-9 (listed, at least) and 295 pounds qualifies as big, then shouldn't Shaq's 7-foot-1, 325 (listed, at least) count as even bigger? The name seems to fit.
Shaq's not Diesel anymore. But maybe a less potent variety of fuel. This should do.
Back in the good old days, Shaq named himself after a Hall of Fame-caliber big man. Nowadays, he should probably take after a legendary Celtics third-string center of yore. Pollard was a small piece of the puzzle when the Celtics raised Banner 17 back in 2008. Shaq should be honored.
The Big Afterthought
After Big Baby, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal, Shaq will be far down the list of valuable big men on the roster. How about a nickname to reflect that?
The Big Waterboy
If he's going to have a lot of time on the bench, he might as well make himself useful. How about a couple trips to the cooler every now and then, helping out his fatigued, sweaty teammates?
We'll see. This nickname issue can't be put to bed until the fall, when Shaq officially reports to Celtics camp and this chapter of his life gets under way. But when that time comes, he'd better be prepared for some less-than-flattering nicknames.
Surely an 18-year veteran can take a good-natured ribbing, right?
Let's hope Shaquille O'Neal can be the bigger man. That's never been a problem for him before.