Shaquille O'Neal's decision to retire was not a stunner, but it still deprives the league's of one of its truly great characters. Shaq was a load! Similar to what Bobby Jackson told me earlier today, you almost can't appreciate his size - 7-foot-1 and anywhere from 300-400 pounds, given the months - until you are physically in his presence. Surprisingly, he spoke in a whisper. When we were having lunch in a downtown Atlanta restaurant prior to the 1996 Olympics, he literally took the tape recorder out of my hand and held it up to his mouth, explaining that his voice simply didn't resonate. Anyway, he will be missed. And if the NBA wants to become even more popular, it can only hope that similarly charismatic personalities emerge in the future.
A few other musings about Shaq:
* It truly bothered him that Christian Laettner was the token collegian on the 1992 Dream Team roster that consisted of Magic, Michael, Larry, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Clyde Drexler. Shaq should USA Basketball should have selected him instead of Laettner, and frankly, it would hard to argue otherwise. And, yes, he missed out. There will never be another Barcelona.
* He and his Laker teammates obsessed about the Kings while sweeping the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. And to this day, Kobe keeps telling me the Kings were the better team that year and that Sacramento should have prevailed and gone on to win a championship.
* The Big Aristotle - my favorite of Shaq's self-declared nicknames - said he broke both wrists while trying to shimmy between two trees when he was a kid. Both arms were placed in casts, and he was never regained full range of motion on his right hand, leading to his "pushing" motion on his shooting touch. Or, lack of shooting touch.
* Here's another reason Jerry West and Pat Riley run to the head of the class: they know how to recruit. Riley most recently wooed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami, but in 1996, Jerry West made an impassioned and successful last-minute pitch that lured Shaq to the Lakers. Into the final hours, Shaq, who was a free agent with Orlando at the time, was leaning toward re-signing with the Magic. Among other things, he prefers smaller cities and despised the traffic in Southern California. But when The Logo persisted, Shaq couldn't resist. As he said a few days later, "that was Jerry West. He kept coming at me. How do you say 'no?' "
* In essence, Shaq was a load, a huge load. Funny. Smart. Curious. Intriguing. Temperamental. Entertaining. Endearing. Often outrageous. Dominating on and off the court. He will be missed. Can I say that again? He ... will .... be ... missed!