Shaq walks away from basketball, 15 years after walking away from Orlando
O’Neal played less than 1/4th of his all-time great career in Orlando. 24% to be exact. 16%, or 36 of the playoff games that Shaq played in came in a Magic uniform. In comparison, he played in 40 playoff games as Miami.
Oh yeah, he has one more championship in Miami than he does in Orlando.
So why do we feel such a strong connection to the Diesel in Orlando? Why do his shoes and memorabilia flow throughout the brand new Amway Center? Why do we STILL talk about the way Shaq left us jilted at the alter for the sexier L.A. while still welcoming him back into town anytime he pleases?
The answer is simple. The answer is that Shaq is the greatest rapper Orlando has ever seen (sorry, Treal). Well, that is part of the answer at least.
The truth is, when the Magic won the “Shaq lottery” all of Central Florida finally felt that they were a basketball town. I remember watching the lottery as a young kid and sprinting around the house when that ping-pong ball sprung up at number one. WE were going to get SHAQ and were going to be noticed!
Shaq brought Orlando and the Magic respectability. He was and has always been, a larger than life personality that wanted to shine. That same desire to *shine* in turn (partially) caused the Magic to lose him to Hollywood. Universal Studios was great, but Steel never gets made if Shaq stays in our “little pond”.
Therein lies the dilemma for Magic fans when it comes to Shaq. Whatever his entire motivation may have been for leaving, and we will probably never fully know the back room dealings of his contract negotiations in the Summer of ’96, he still left. One of the top 10 players in the history of basketball left Orlando because he didn’t think we were good enough. All the years that have gone by, the jokes that have been told, the knees that have cracked, the flops that have been had… it still hurts.
Perhaps after another 5 or 10 more years that pain will continue to subside. When all we see is the backboards being torn down, the Finals highlights, the hypnosis shoes burned into our memory, or a 7′ 450-pound Shaq approaching our car after pulling us over…maybe then, we will have the strength to forgive.
Then again, if Dwight Howard can one day deliver Central Florida the Larry O’Brien Trophy, most will forget that Shaq ever existed in this town.
For me though, I will never forget. I’ll never forget waking up on July 18th and reading that giant front page headline. Shaq was gone. As a kid, there was no rationality. It was black and white. Shaq up and left. Orlando was never going to have the dynasty that the young Brian Serra dreamed of. Shaq and Penny were NEVER going to be MJ and Scottie.
So as Shaq announces his retirement after 19 years in the NBA, there is no doubt that he positively touched the lives of kids all over the world with his basketball and comedic talents. He probably even inspired some kid somewhere not to shoot it or to pass it, yet to “slam it”. He helped Orlando grow from an expansion team to earning a spot in the Finals after only 6 seasons. He is one of the 2 or 3 best players in the history of this franchise. Yet, for the majority of Orlando fans… his legacy will be leaving. See ya later, Shaq. Again.
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