May 11, 2011, 4:24 PM EST
We’re going to miss Shaquille O’Neal.
Not the Shaq of this season, or even the last several. Not the guy who has played just 17 minutes since Feb. 1 because even that little time aggravates his leg injuries. That is a shell of the former player, a guy who at his peak was one of the greatest big men ever to play the game.
But the fact he is in so much pain leads one to think he may walk away after this season. Shaq has said he wanted to play one more season, at age 40, and he has a $1.4 million player option for next season. It’s his call. And as a personality it would be hard for him to walk away from the camaraderie of the locker room.
But the fact he can barely walk after 12 minutes of playoff action over two games means he may walk away after all.
And whenever he does walk away, we need to remember the Shaq of a decade and more ago. The guy who had four rings, three finals MVPs and one regular-season MVP trophy. The guy who is a career 58.2 percent shooter. The guy with the third-highest career PER of all time (Michael Jordan and LeBron James, to answer your next question).
Shaq is the guy who built the Magic into a successful franchise, bringing the game and personality to excite a young expansion market. He cemented his legacy as one of the greats in a Lakers uniform that has been worn by so many of the game’s greatest big men. He came to Miami when it was common for them to put tarps over full sections at the top of the arena and both sold the building out and won another ring with Dwyane Wade.
Shaq was as much a personality as a player, generating headlines off the court as much as on it. His feud with Kobe is the stuff of legend. He had a massive Twitter following before half the mainstream media figured out what Twitter was. You’ll remember him for dancing with the Jabbawockeez.
He should be remembered for all of it. Not this exit.
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