Shaquille O'Neal's retirement on Wednesday was very fitting, given the way his 10 months as a Celtic have transpired — it was detached, distant, but still plenty provocative. After 19 years in the NBA, Shaq is hardened and jaded by experience, but he's still got America's hearts in the very large palms of his very large hands.
Shaq didn't announce his farewell to a sold-out TD Garden. He didn't even discuss it at a podium with a room full of reporters. Rather, he sent out a tweet at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, linking to a quick-hitting 16-second video announcing his retirement. That's it. That's all. Just like that, he's done.
The big fella has spent two decades as a larger-than-life public personality, gracing every TV screen and every magazine cover in America. But that's not the Shaq who retired Wednesday. That guy was 39, he was tired and he was ready to hang it up.
Here in Boston, we got the old, beaten-down Shaq. He made a splash in the Hub with his celebrity status, becoming an honorary sheriff's deputy and even guest-conducting the Boston Pops. But he wasn't the same superstar who graced Hollywood 10 years ago. He was going through the motions — avoiding the media and recycling stock quotes, playing with a lazy style and picking up garbage buckets around the hoop. He was often injured, rarely seen around his Celtics teammates.
Shaq made Boston the final stop on his six-city NBA tour, but he wasn't much of a Celtic. He was always in the treatment room at the Garden, hiding in the back of the practice facility or resting at his quiet farm home out in Sudbury. He arrived as a sensation, and ended up an afterthought. He watched from the bench, in street clothes, as the Celtics were knocked out of the playoffs swiftly in the second round.
Still, Shaq's presence was fun while it lasted. He's one of the great players in the history of the game — no one can deny that — and it was fitting that he finished his career with one of the great franchises.
He's played with some of the game's best teammates — Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash, LeBron James — and he poetically finished his career with a Hall of Famer-laden starting five in Boston.
Shaq's time with the Celtics was short, but it was sweet. The team's history is richer for it.