Lately, it's been hard to watch Shaquille O'Neal.
The guy who won three MVP awards, who went to 15 All-Star Games, who averaged -- get this -- 35.7 points and 14.9 rebounds per game in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 NBA Finals ... well, that guy is gone now.
In his place is a 39-year-old journeyman with legs so bad he had to limp his way up and down the floor in brief Eastern Conference Semifinals appearances last week. With the Celtics on the brink of elimination, Shaq is almost certainly set to retire. Sadly, his era is over.
As you no doubt know, before Shaq did all that -- before he became the funny, ebullient, overpowering NBA legend -- he was a two-time All-American at LSU. O'Neal left the school in 1992 to pursue his long-foretold NBA destiny, but he returned to receive his degree in 2000 (hence "Big Aristotle") and has quietly but generously donated to LSU since. He is one of only four LSU athletes to have his uniform retired at the school.
Now he's about to become as much the face of LSU basketball as any player since Pistol Pete Maravich. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, LSU is planning to unveil a life-size bronze statue of a college-age Shaq in the midst of one of his trademark two-handed thunderslams (a term I may or may not have just made up, but which certainly feels applicable here). The 900-pound statue is going to be placed outside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center's new practice facility. It will be the first of its kind on LSU's campus, a fitting tribute for the only player in LSU history to win a collegiate national player of the year award and professional MVP honors.
The statue has already been built; you can see the Advocate's image of it here. The only thing stopping LSU is a concrete plan for its unveiling. LSU associate vice chancellor for communications Herb Vincent said the plan is to wait until O'Neal can "be a big part of" the ceremony. Presumably, that will happen sometime this offseason.
In many ways, this is perfect timing. Given the injury woes that only seem to be getting worse, not to mention the possibility of an NBA work-stoppage, it's possible we have seen the Big Everything play his final organized basketball game of all-time. What better time to honor him -- to honor the player we'll always remember -- than now?