Lakers reflect on Shaq's career
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- When the Los Angeles Lakers welcomed Dwight Howard to the practice facility for the first time this summer, general manager Mitch Kupchak pointed out the window of his office to the retired jerseys over the court and said he wanted Howard to be recognized there someday.
Another "Superman" will already be up there if that happens for Howard.
While Howard and O'Neal have publicly traded barbs in the past, including Howard saying O'Neal was "done" and "it's time to move on" after O'Neal had criticized him at the beginning of training camp this season, Howard had nothing but praise for O'Neal on this occasion.
"I'm happy for Shaq," Howard said after practice Monday, taking a long pause before giving his answer. "That's a big accomplishment for any NBA player to have their jersey retired. He's done a lot for the Lakers' organization, he's done a lot for the NBA. He deserves it. So, I'm happy for him. He had a great [eight] years for the Lakers. It started off slow, but he ended up winning a couple championships here and he had a great career. So, when you have a career like his, that's what you get. You get your jersey in the rafters. I think it's awesome."
O'Neal will be the ninth 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), Jerry West (No. 44) and Jamaal Wilkes (No. 52).
"All of us, that's our goal," Howard said. "We want to be Hall of Famers. We want to have our jerseys hanging from the rafters. We want to have a statue. It's just what you do for the team during your years of playing. A lot of guys like Shaq made the Lakers really popular, so that's why he has his jersey retired."
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson will speak at O'Neal's halftime ceremony, along with Lakers vice president of business operations, Jeanie Buss. The Lakers will also show a pretaped message from Kobe Bryant on the video screen. Bryant will be in the locker room with his team preparing for the second half. Lakers greats West, Wilkes and Baylor are also scheduled to be in attendance.
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"It's going to be great," Bryant on Saturday said when asked about honoring O'Neal. "It's beyond well-deserved. I'm very, very happy for him, proud of him and everything that he's accomplished and the smooth transition that he's had now from player to commentator."
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.
Current Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni had O'Neal on his team in Phoenix.
"It's just great for him," D'Antoni said. "He was fun to coach when we were in Phoenix with him and bigger than life."
D'Antoni shared his favorite memories of coaching O'Neal.
"Just him running around the locker room crazy, just funny," D'Antoni said. "Just funny. Him driving a big semi-trailer cab and blowing his horn all over the place. He just does everything in a grand scale and he was fun to be with. It was good."
D'Antoni said O'Neal was one of the best big men ever to play the game and credited him as having "changed basketball."
"Everything you do if you're preparing against his team, you talk about Shaq 90 percent of the time," D'Antoni said. "You prepare how not to leave his body, when are you going to double-team him. Are you going to hack him? Are you going to do this, are you going to do that? There's very few guys you spend the whole scouting meeting talking about and he's one of those guys."
Pau Gasol was one of those opponents who had to put his 7-foot, 227-pound body up against O'Neal's 7-1, 325-pound frame on a regular basis.
"He was tough," Gasol said. "It was a challenge. I always thought as a player when they asked me who the hardest player was to go against, it was him. His size, his strength, his power. It was too much to handle, especially when he wanted to go. You had very little [you could] do."