Shaquille O'Neal retired two weeks ago at an elegant press conference at his Orlando, Fla., home, giving a heartfelt speech to his friends, family and the media. He walked away after 19 years saying he'd accomplished his career goal — having earned the privilege of being mentioned in the same breath as the greatest big men of all time: Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bill Russell.
Simply put, Shaq went out right.
Beneath the big man's jolly exterior was a deceptively insecure guy who cared a lot about his legacy. So the fact that Shaq put the perfect cherry on top of his career, retiring with dignity and class, certainly means a lot.
Then again, he sure found one hell of a way to tarnish that dignity, if reports out of Los Angeles are accurate.
News broke this week that Shaq's former friend, Robert Ross, has filed criminal charges against seven L.A. gang members for an assault he alleges took place back in February 2008. Shaq is right in the middle of the scandal; Ross was attacked because he claimed to have a sex tape starring Shaq and another woman who was not his wife, according to court records. Ross told investigators that the Main Street Crips members demanded the videotape and $100,000; when Ross refused, he says they beat him and stole $15,000 in cash and jewelry.
Shaq was already a lightning rod for controversy in Boston, missing games with injuries while the Celtics bowed out early in the playoffs. But this goes to another level altogether.
A scandal like this, even if it's totally fabricated, won't be easy for Shaq to shake from public memory. There's infidelity, there's organized crime, there's violence. America forgets about points and rebounds and whatnot, but this? They'll remember.
One thing you can say in Shaq's defense: It sure sounds like he's said and done all the right things. The Los Angeles Times uncovered this week that Shaq spoke to the sheriff's department back in 2008, and he explained himself fully. He denies any involvement in the attack, he says he didn't care about any sex tape, and he explained fully his relationship with Ross. They were friends once upon a time, but O'Neal cut off ties because of Ross's run-ins with the law.
Shaq looks — how should I put this? — about as good as anyone can look when they're being accused of cheating on their wife on videotape and helping to orchestrate a beating of the tape's owner. This news is jarring, especially considering we just saw Shaq up at a podium in a suit and tie a couple weeks ago giving a beautiful retirement speech, but Shaq is coming off as the good guy.
Even so, this is a sad story for everyone involved. Let's hope justice is served, but perhaps even more importantly, let's hope we can look back on Shaquille O'Neal in 20 years and think of his myriad basketball achievements, not this. Shaq went out right — as one of the greatest ever to play the game — and hopefully we'll always remember that.
What do you think of this Shaquille O'Neal scandal? Share your thoughts below.