There is something that all Lakers fans and really anyone in general should take into account. Bronze lasts forever, whereas beef eventually gets infested with swarms of bacteria and maggots and thus fades away.
This lesson officially came into play yesterday at the unveiling of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling at Staples Center. It was a statue that perfectly captured the very essence of Kazaam in his playing days. It depicts that on-and-off switch Kobe was confidently talking about in his tribute to his former teammate. It typifies Shaq’s total dominance and strength as overused as those terms are. And now he is officially intertwined with the legends of legends whether Magic is thought about, Kareem, Chick, and so forth. He is now linked with part of the magical landscape of Hollywood and all it means.
The fact, though, that Kobe had said that suggests that in spite of past problems between the two, there remains this respect for one another. There is this sense of admiration because without each other, the duo would not have been able to accomplish what they accomplished in their respective careers. There is no doubt about that because as great as they were individually (who on earth can argue that?), they both needed each other. Their personalities were essentially the perfect combination, Kobe’s being one filled with this no nonsense cloud hovering around him. Shaq was different off the court and was a bit more lighthearted.
Despite how lovable Shaq is and how tremendous his run in the City of Angels was, his statue was not necessarily guaranteed after the way things ended with the purple-and-gold. Yes, he played a major, major role in the team’s three peat run, earning Finals MVP in all of those memorable campaigns. Be that as it may, the remarkably highly publicized drama between him and Kobe got to be too much at that point. The drama was bad and it became more and more noticeable. It severely affected the chemistry of the group. It is, in large part, what spurred the Big Diesel to leave after Los Angeles lost to Detroit in the 2004 Finals.
Thankfully, this all started to fix itself a few years ago, though. The team would eventually take the first step insofar as retiring #34 in the rafters. It is a goal Shaquille had established since his early days with them going back to the 1990s. He craved to fit in with the Kareems and Wilts of the world and one day hopefully be named amongst the greatest centers to ever play the game. Suffice to say, O’Neal answered the call of duty. To say he answered it is an understatement. It is something most deserved given that 13-time champion Phil Jackson challenged the man, too, to answer that call.
It was an area Jackson brushed on in his speech prior to the unveiling. Jackson wanted the younger Shaq to take basketball seriously in lieu of spending so much focus on making commercials, being in children’s movies, and the like. Phil urged Shaq to be something greater in an effort to bring the Lakers back to the so-called promised land. Phil virtually wanted Showtime, version 2 to arise. He understood it nearly as well as anyone by virtue of the tenure he had in the Windy City. And for that to be possible, the Big Fella needed to get in better shape and build up his stamina to be a factor in the closing minutes of games. Let’s just once again say that Phil’s challenge was taken to heart and that the rest is history. Just look up high in the rafters at Staples Center. The tangible proof is there. So stop being so jealous Clippers fans by covering up all of that with selfies of your players. Just because you guys do not have that proof yet does not mean you can just hide and be scared and whatnot.
This history, though, perhaps led to one of the more unexpected moments during yesterday’s festivities. The Black Mamba himself, as tough-minded and not so soft as he is, got a little softer yesterday by simply showing up. Kobe has been spending his retirement diligently working for the most part and by putting a lot of his cheddar in investments. But the two hugged it out surprisingly enough and it was hard not to smile remembering what once was back in the day. Those were the days and thinking of just how crowded Figueroa would be summer after summer started to be something that became so commonplace to where it became hard to not take it all for granted. It displays the respect, if anything, and it was beautiful to see because the two were as good as any when it came to uniting and winning.
As a matter of fact, this moment led to another Lakers’ legend commenting on the sequence. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at one interval during his own tribute to Shaq said that the probability of Kobe coming was as small as O’Neal’s odds were of successfully nailing a free throw. Which is astronomically funny to get a load of, indeed, because we all know that Shaw’s biggest on the floor weakness was just that. We also grasp through this perhaps Kobe’s biggest drawback, which was often avoiding the gooey stuff in his career. He mind was so attached to basketball and that was more or less it. Concentrating on that craft and being in the gym all the time was his life. Relationships were not always important as a result. However, this step (as minuscule as it might seem right off the bat) exemplifies that Kobe and Shaq have both matured as men.
Other legends were on hand for the Big Aristotle’s big day, too. Jerry West, the former Lakers’ GM and the NBA logo (or whatever else you wish to call the former marksman) had a lot of nice things to say about the former force in the paint. Jerry spoke about how much he enjoyed Shaq when he was in LA. It extended beyond the work he performed from a basketball perspective. Mr. Clutch touched on number 34’s kind and giving spirit and how much he meant and still means to many souls in the city. He truly made it a better place to be and that morsel of kindness on West’s front was not just designed to just make Shaq have a good feeling sort of day. You could just see how genuine West was being for it frankly sounded like he was oftentimes on the verge of tears. The impact therefore surely branches outside of the realm of sports. West even went as far as to say that Shaq was akin to son of his. That is some kind of compliment to receive.
Jeanie Buss shed light on this aspect in her speech to Shaq. Let alone her gratefulness to those who constructed the larger than life bust of O’Neal and to O’Neal himself for celebrating the title parades in such exuberant, unexplainable fashion, there was something more to the man that tugged on the woman’s heartstrings. It was once again that generosity whether it was a matter of Shaq dressing up as Santa during the holidays or simply taking care of the poorer regions of the youngsters in the most impoverished areas of the city. It is something she greatly valued. At the same time, she also was sure to give the 7 foot 1 beast credit for what he did on the playing confines, but, more importantly, for being a Laker. She said that he will everlastingly be part of this franchise. That would never be in question.
It is difficult to not conjure up ruminations on the sports aspect and Bryant spoke about it the most amongst those present at the ceremony. He called Shaq the most dominant player he ever had the privilege of playing with and that says something provided how talented Kobe himself was (wink, wink). Shaq proved it, though, and it even inclined Kobe to tell Shaq’s kids in a more lighthearted anecdote that Shaq was a “bad” man on the court. Funny, but true. It comes to show that even a guy like Kobe can crack open a less serious side once in a blue moon.
Shaq later commented on it and appreciated it very much. He admitted that he and Kobe had their moments, but will still go down as arguably the greatest one-two punch ever assembled notwithstanding the controversy that will forever encapsulate the pair. They won three out of four possible titles and few can say that. For example, duos like Stockton and Malone never managed to win at all in the nineties despite the opportunities they had (although we all know quite well that MJ was something else to behold in that era of the NBA).
As Shaq similarly exhibited at the end of his own speech, it is more than safe to say that we all dig it, Big Fella. We dig it big time. Congratulations. Through it all, there were the share of rivalries and not so great moments, but it all panned out in the end. We are thankful for you, Shaq, and could honestly not be more proud!