LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O’Neal was always afraid the day would never come.
When he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, he always dreamed he would one day see his jersey retired alongside Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Gail Goodrich, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
As the Lakers continued to get eliminated in the playoffs early during his first three seasons in L.A. he worried it might never happen, and again thought his chance might have been lost when he was traded from the team in 2004 and finished his career with the Boston Celtics.
When the Lakers, however, announced they would retire his jersey next season, O’Neal said it was one of the highlights of his career.
“It means a lot to me,” O’Neal said. “I remember when I first signed with the Lakers, Jerry West told me to look up at the retired jerseys. He said either your name is going to be up there or you’re going to be a bust so it will mean a lot to have my name up there. That was always with me, especially when we didn’t have Phil Jackson and we were always losing in the playoffs, I was nervous I wasn’t going to be that good. Then we got Phil and we won championships and I was always hoping and praying my jersey would get retired one day.”
O’Neal, who was in Los Angeles this weekend to host the Cartoon Network Hall of Game Awards, says he continues to watch the Lakers regularly after retiring in June and enjoyed watching Kobe Bryant pass him for fifth on the NBA all-time scoring list earlier this season. He did say, however, he should have been much higher on the list but injuries and an inability to hit his free throws held him back.
“Kobe’s one of those athletes like Michael Jordan and Karl Malone that doesn’t miss a lot of games because of injury,” O’Neal said. “I missed 250 games and I averaged 24 points per game so that’s 6,000 points and I missed 5,000 free throws so I could have easily been at No. 2. Kobe’s never really hurt and he shoots a lot so good for him.”