Take a quick look at all of the teams that were on the radar this week to highlight the NBA's 2010-11 schedule — opening night, Christmas Day, MLK Day and the like. You've got L.A., Miami, Orlando, Phoenix, Cleveland, and of course the Celtics. What do all these teams have in common?
Rich histories. Big superstars (either currently present, recently departed or both). And one other thing: They've all been stops on the sold-out, 18-year tour that is Shaquille O'Neal's career in the NBA.
Shaq has been alive and kicking in this league since 1992, when the Magic selected him with the No. 1 overall pick out of LSU. He's since played stints with the Lakers, Heat, Suns and Cavaliers, all of which included some unforgettable moments both on and off the court. It doesn't matter whether he's a Finals MVP or a role player logging 20 minutes a night — Shaq never escapes the public eye, and the public eye never escapes him.
With Shaq, you come for the serviceable NBA center and you stay for the paradox: Is all the media attention here because of Shaq, or is Shaq here because of all the media attention?
Everywhere Shaq has gone, it's been a media circus, and not just because of him. In Orlando, he quickly turned the expansion-team Magic into the best young team in the NBA, and he had them in the Finals against Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets by age 23. The guy playing second fiddle, Penny Hardaway, was seen by many NBA prognosticators as the next Magic Johnson in his early years.
Shaq took his talents to Long Beach at age 24, joining forces with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson to rattle off three consecutive titles. He went from coast to coast again eight years later, joining Dwyane Wade in Miami to win another ring.
When Steve Nash won back-to-back MVPs and Shaq hit the trading block, he knew where he wanted to hitch his wagon. When LeBron James rose to power and took his throne as the best player on the planet, voila, Shaq was there.
Shaq has always sought greatness, and greatness has always found Shaq. Everywhere he's gone.
And now the Celtics? You've got to be kidding me. This is too perfect.
Now that Operation:Shaq to Celtics is a done deal and the Diesel will be in green next season, Shaq has gotten really, truly, extraordinarily lucky.
Because let's face it. Shaq is 38 and facing a serious deterioration of both his mobility and his competitive drive. Eighteen years in this game has sapped a lot out of him. And this point, he was desperate for pretty much anybody to sign him. He was even considering Europe.
And somehow the one team out of 30 that bites is the one team that makes perfect sense in the storied arc of his career.
For starters, Shaq has found one of the few places in the NBA where he's got a legitimate shot at another title. He's now one ring behind Kobe and no doubt, he's in search of a little boost to his resume. In Boston, he can get it.
But perhaps more importantly, he's found history.
Shaq will play 41 games a year in an arena where 17 NBA championship banners hang above him. He'll play in front of some of the most knowledgeable and passionate, yet tough and unforgiving fans in the world. He'll wear the same uniform as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.
Is there any better way to finish your career than that? Nope — not if you're Shaq.
If you are Shaq, this is ideal.
There are a lot of questions about this transaction from the Celtics' point of view — whether he'll demand too many touches, whether he'll be reluctant to play defense, and whether he'll destroy the team's chemistry are all points of uncertainty going forward.
But on Shaq's end, there's no time for questions. His next move is to sign on the dotted line. A farewell tour in Boston is too perfect to pass up.
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