Well, I guess we really can call him the “Big Leprachaun.” Shaquille O’neal has just signed with the Boston Celtics. Shaq is one of the most dominant players in NBA history, standing at 7-foot-1, 325 pounds. He has been an NBA All-Star 15 times in quite a remarkable career.
The deal is not a blockbuster comeback for big Shaq, giving him only $3 million over a two-year period. Let’s face it: He’s not the player he used to be. But he might be a champion again, given that the team already has a slew of talented players, including Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.
“I am honored to be joining the Celtics,” O’Neal said in a statement. “I have played against Paul, Ray, Kevin, Rajon, and Jermaine for many years and it will be great to be able to call them my teammates. I cannot wait to get to Boston to get started in pursuit of another championship.”
I almost feel like I’ve grown up with Shaquille O’neal, who was the most amazing player I’d ever seen at the college level. He was like a man among elementary school kids, blocking one shot after another and presenting a mix of force, size and skill that the NCAA had never seen.
Shaq and his college rival Alonzo Mourning were also victims of racism from the powers that be in collegiate athletics. Although it was clear to any reasonable basketball fan that Shaq was the best player in the country, nearly every single Player of the Year award went to Christian Laettner, the golden boy with blonde hair at Duke University. Laettner was even chosen over O’neal for the first olympic Dream Team of 1992, which was a despicable miscarriage of athletic justice. The black boy from Texas wasn’t getting the respect he deserved, and everyone knew it.
But eventually in life, we get what we earn. The NBA cared too much about money to be racist. There was no pretending that Laettner was better than Mourning and O’neal. The 1992 NBA draft was dubbed, “The Shaquille O’neal Sweepstakes,” since everyone knew that whatever team drafted O’neal would have a shot at a championship. Mourning was the second pick in the draft as well, with Laettner being third. There was no debate about whether Laettner was better than O’neal, and no legitimacy given to the awards that the NCAA had given to it’s golden boy. Everybody knew that O’neal was the best, and I guarantee that if Shaq were white, he would have won all those awards.
Over 18 years after that famous draft, things played out exactly as expected: O’neal has had a stellar career, winning four NBA championships. Mourning was an All-star on multiple occasions, starring for the Miami Heat for several years. Laettner is such an afterthought that even his own mama barely remembers his name. Shaq has come a long way, and finally, this great athlete is getting the respect he should have received in the early 1990s.