But despite the personal achievements that he’s racked up on the hardwood, his impact extends beyond the confines of an NBA arena.
With a larger-than-life persona, O’Neal will be remembered as one of the most interesting, entertaining and likable athletes this world has ever seen. From the second he stepped into the media spotlight at LSU, a combination of greatness and flare has generated a monster that’s had the sports world in the palm of its hand for nearly two decades; a monster known as “Shaq.”
Few people, let alone athletes, possess the ability to captivate us so much that we refer to them simply by their first name. O’Neal not only embraced that challenge, he took it a step further, creating such a recognizable and unique aura around him that a full first name wasn’t necessary.
His name has reached a status reserved for the likes of Elvis, Prince, Pele and The Babe.
In terms of athletes, it’s hard to place Shaquille O’Neal below any of his unique predecessors when it comes to success coupled with entertainment value.
Babe Ruth paved the way for baseball’s power hitters. His big bat and charming personality awed fans as he revolutionized the game.
Pele’s success in soccer and boisterous opinions on social issues made him not only a cult hero in Brazil, but around the world. To this day, over 30 years after retiring, his name is still soccer’s most recognizable.
Evel Knievel soared through the air, mesmerizing all that ever witnessed his stunts. A daredevil with the intestinal fortitude to wear a cape, Knievel stared death directly in the eye time and time again — and won.
Muhammad Ali, named “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC in 1999, was a three-time world heavyweight champion. He floated into our minds like a butterfly, and stung us like a bee with his unpredictability and outspokenness.
Then there’s Shaq.
In addition to being the most physically dominating player in basketball history, he’s used humor, bluntness and a peculiar sense of cleverness to win over the hearts of NBA fans everywhere. He was and is the face of the league.
Even as O’Neal’s basketball production has dwindled in recent years, he’s kept us on the edge of our seats, wanting more, because there is no telling when he’s going to out-do himself.
Who else can say they recorded four rap albums, one that went platinum; starred in several films, television shows, and reality shows; and was the subject of a kung fu video game, all in addition to becoming one of the NBA’s all-time greats?
NBA fans might not want Shaq to leave the spotlight, but there’s good news. He isn’t.
Shaq’s career might be over, but the personality that’s carried him to heights beyond his monstrous frame remains very much intact. Knowing Shaq, the best and most entertaining may be yet to come.
What do you think Shaquille O’Neal’s legacy will be? Share your thoughts below.