The Big Picture

by Rodney D. King / @mehkavelli

Last night the world was met with the news that longtime NBA center Shaquille O’Neal called it quits. While most stars would’ve held a press conference, the Big Aristotle took a different route as he has his whole career. The big man took to his twitter account to announce that after 19 years on the court, he’s finally calling it quits. What Shaq does now that he’s officially retired is beyond me. All I know is, Shaquille O’Neal will always stand out to me whether he’s playing or not.

The 19-year veteran ranks among the top players in the history of the game in every major statistical category. Over the course of his career, Shaq collected 15 All-Star selections, 14 All-NBA bids, Rookie of the Year, four regular-season and Finals MVP awards, three All-Star MVP awards, and three All-NBA Defensive Team selections. You can argue that Shaq was best center to ever lace up the sneakers and a force that will never be seen again in the NBA.

But for all his professional accolades, the thing I will remember most about Shaq would be his presence off the court. I remember the massive backboard-breaking dunks, the fast breaks and the crashes into the stands, but the thing I will remember most about Shaq has nothing to do with his basketball career.

When Shaq was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992, the League had Jordan as its marquee player, but Shaquille O’Neal was destined to be his heir apparent. And on the court, he was MJ’s only real rival. It was off the court where his presence really separated him from anyone else on earth.

Shaq was a new star, and as a new star, he used new and then-developing media to take his persona to another level. Shaq was the first athlete I can remember with a video game that had nothing to do with the sport he played! “Shaq-Fu” became one of the most popular titles for the Sega Genesis despite the fact that critics widely panned it. That didn’t stop kids from buying a video game with their favorite new star on the cover. I was one of those kids.

Shaq was the first athlete to really take advantage of everything media. His movies were anything but great. Blue Chips was a good vehicle and simply appearing in movies like Kazam was just another check. He entertained us on television, whether it was as a guest character on shows like My Wife and Kids or his reality show Shaq Vs where Shaq took on other athletes in their sport. Shaq even took his massive body and smile to the WWE where he took down the Big Show and eventually lost to Bob Barker for a Slammy award.

But he was always there, whether the topic was basketball or not. He took full advantage of the media. And while people like LeBron and Kobe make you wince after seeing them so many times on TV or in print, Shaq was somebody you loved seeing over and over. Which is why the world’s latest media sensation, twitter fit him the best. One of the first people to reach the 1 million follower goal Shaq was made for twitter. He entertained us 24 hours a day with tweets like “went to the la zoo today, a chimpanzee spit at me, dam I must be ugly, lol” or “Attention all scrabble players, question, is pigsriot a word.” Then there’s my favorite “wasn’t lookin, but Randy Orton has da sexiest white man butt ive seen next 2 Steve Nash.”

Shaq will be remembered mostly to me because he refused to be forgotten. While other stars took a subtle role toward trying to be a celebrity outside of the court, Shaq jumped into those waters with both feet and a big smile. He loved the camera and the camera loved him.

Seeing him announce on twitter yesterday that “it’s done” reminded me of just that. Shaq can not be forgotten, whether he’s playing basketball or not. And I was reminded even more as every media outlet re-tweeted his video retirement throughout the day. Shaq may be gone, but he’ll never really be far from us as long as we have a TV or a laptop.