No one deserves a Staples Center statue more than Shaquille O’Neal. His free agent signing in the summer of 1996 guaranteed the Lakers would be a dominant NBA force for the next 16 years. He was the reason the Lakers were able to move from Inglewood to downtown Los Angeles.
In Staples inaugural season, 1999-2000, the Lakers, Shaq (and Kobe) hung a championship banner. Shaq was the MVP of the league. Additionally, Shaq loved being a Laker. He loved Los Angeles. He loved the celebrity culture. He loved the fans. He loved winning. He loved the history. He loved everything that the Lakers represented.
In announcing the statue selection choice, Jeanie Buss said:
“He is a giant not only in size, but also in stature and in what he accomplished as a Laker. Shaq literally broke the ground for the site and was hugely responsible for not only getting Staples Center built, but for making it one of the most successful and famous arenas in the world. It is an honor that is well deserved.”
Shaquille O’Neal will be the seventh statue in front of Staples. The non-Lakers are Wayne Gretzky and Oscar de la Hoya. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Jerry West and Chick Hearn are the Lakers legends statue club. Shaq is next man up.
His reaction on Jimmy Kimmel when he heard the news in December was one of shock. The usually verbose, comical and witty O’Neal was tongue tied and at a loss for words. “Seriously?”, he kept repeating over and over.
The irony of the Shaq statue is that it wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of another Laker, also immortalized in bronze: Jerry West. It involved a lot of moving pieces in the summer of 1996. First, the Lakers traded Vlade Divac for Kobe Bryant, which freed up money. The Lakers were then able to offer Shaq a 7-year $95 million deal. But the Magic upped their offer and West had more maneuvering. He traded Anthony Peeler and George Lynch to Vancouver and made O’Neal a $120 million dollar offer.
“You cannot win without players. I don’t care if it’s Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, whoever. If you don’t have players, you’re not going to win. It just doesn’t happen that way. So you’re always trying to attract the very best talent for Los Angeles.” (Jerry West)
Shaq’s Lakers history was extraordinary, particularly since the critics and scouts said he would never win a NBA title. He did much, much more than that.
One MVP, 3 Finals MVP’s, 3 NBA Titles, 27.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 14 times Player of the Week, 8 times Player of the Month, 7 All-Star appearances in a Lakers jersey, one All-Star MVP,
He led the NBA in points scored, 1998-2000. In a five year span, 1997-2002, he had the highest field goal percentage.
He kicked off Staples Center by leading the league in scoring, 29.7. In 1999-2000, Shaquille O’Neal made the most 2-point shots. He made the most field goals. He had the highest field goal percentage, 57.4%. He attempted the most free throws. He was second in the league in rebounding, 13.6. He was 3rd in blocks. He was 4th in minutes. He won the MVP.
He was the most efficient NBA player from 1997-2002. He was number one in Win Shares, 1999-2001.
He had a 48 point and 20 rebound game against Boston. He scored 40+ points on 50% of the league. He scored 40+ points 26 times. He scored 50 points against his hometown New Jersey Nets. He scored 61 points on his birthday against the Clippers. He brutalized the Clippers two other times, dropping 40 and 42 points respectively.
17 times he had 20+ rebounding games. He had 20 rebounds against Dallas, twice in the same season. Against four teams, Spurs, 76ers, Dallas and Cleveland, he had 20+ rebounding games twice.
Only Shaq could pry Kobe Bryant away from his reclusive retirement to talk about how great the Shaq-Kobe combo was, probably never seen again in NBA history. His statue is unveiled tonight.
photo via llananba