- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O'Neal will always have a special place in the hearts of Los Angeles Lakers fans for being named Finals MVP in all three of the Lakers' championships from 2000 to 2002. Starting next season he'll also have a permanent place at Staples Center.
The Lakers will retire O'Neal's No. 34 jersey next season, team spokesman John Black confirmed Thursday.
A specific date will not be planned until the NBA releases the 2012-13 schedule this summer.
O'Neal retired in June after a 19-year, Hall of Fame-worthy NBA career. In the eight seasons he spent in Los Angeles from 1996 to 2004, the Lakers made the Finals four times, winning three championships, and O'Neal led the league in scoring while being named regular season MVP in 1999-2000.
O'Neal will be the eighth player in Lakers franchise history to have his jersey retired, joining Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13), Elgin Baylor (No. 22), Gail Goodrich (No. 25), Magic Johnson (No. 32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (No. 33), James Worthy (No. 42) and Jerry West (No. 44).
All seven other Lakers players to have their number retired are members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
"It's deserved," Kobe Bryant said after the Lakers' 88-87 overtime win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday. "It's rightfully deserved."
O'Neal retired with career averages of 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game on 58.2 percent shooting, but his numbers jumped to 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 514 regular-season games played in L.A.
He was even more impressive in the three Finals against Indiana, Philadelphia and New Jersey, averaging 35.9 points, 15.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in the Lakers' three series wins.
This week Bryant passed O'Neal's 28,596 career points to assume fifth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
"I want to personally congratulate Kobe on being the greatest Laker ever," O'Neal told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith shortly after Bryant passed his mark.
Said Bryant: "I appreciate it. I'm sure Shaq and I will connect at some point and revisit history. But it's fun. We had some good times, man. We had some good times. So thank you is what I have to say (to O'Neal)."
O'Neal wore No. 32 in Orlando to start his career but had to change to No. 34 when arriving in L.A. because of Johnson. He went back to No. 32 in Miami and Phoenix. He also wore No. 33 in Cleveland and No. 36 in Boston to finish his career.
The relationship between O'Neal and the Lakers spoiled before he was traded to the Heat in summer 2004. O'Neal butted heads with Bryant and was seeking a lucrative contract extension that the team did not want to offer, but time has helped repair the rift.
"Shaq had a long and amazing career, with a huge impact both on and off the court," Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss said in a statement when the big man retired. "His contributions were significant to the entire NBA, but we specifically appreciate what he did with and what he meant to the Lakers during his eight years with us. We have three championships that we wouldn't have won without him, and we will forever be grateful for his significant contributions to those teams."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Shaquille O'Neal will always have a special place in the hearts of Los Angeles Lakers fans for being named Finals MVP in all three of the Lakers' championships from 2000-02 . Starting next season he'll also have a permanent place at Staples Center.