I cannot believe it was mor than two decades ago when I first saw Shaquille O'Neal on the hardwood.
I will never forget the first time I met this Goliath of a superstar. He was a high school star out of San Antonio, competing in the McDonald's High School All-American game. That was before he headed to LSU on his way to greatness, baby!
It was incredible to see his agility, mobility and grace on the court that day. He was like a ballerina dancer as he went up the court for an incredible flying dunk.
That was the beginning of seeing a dazzling performer, a unique, dominating athlete who made such a difference in the sport. He was a PTP'er, a prime-time performer who went on to star with the Tigers under Dale Brown. Shaq was virtually unstoppable in college with his size and strength.
Then he went on to the pros and had 19 wonderful seasons in the NBA. He was something else both on and off the court, gaining attention because of his ability as a player and his personality off of it.
O'Neal won three championship rings in Los Angeles, teaming up with Kobe Bryant to give thrills to the Laker fans. Then he got a fourth title in Miami, when he paired up with Dwyane Wade in South Beach for the 2006 title win over Dallas. Shaq was a major factor in that run too.
This giant was a scoring machine. He was physical and intimidating. Shaq did everything well as a scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, and he was an absolutely dominant force. Think about how his numbers would have been even greater if he had efficiency on the free throw line! He may have been a liability on the charity stripe, but he was still one of the most dominant players to ever put on a basketball uniform.
Basketball efficiency on both ends of the court begins in the middle of the floor. When Shaquille O'Neal was in his prime, his team had a great chance to win. He was that much of a factor.
While he will be missed in that NBA uniform, we have not seen the last of him. This guy is Mr. Entertainer with that smile, the way he treats people and his overall personna. I know that when I see him, I can expect a big bear hug from a guy who is like a big teddy bear.
I will never forget his coming out party in college back in 1990, when his LSU squad took on then-highly ranked Arizona. Lute Olson's club had plenty of size, including Sean Rooks, Brian Williams and Ed Stokes along the frontline. I worked the game with Hall of Fame announcer Keith Jackson.
Shaq made the Wildcats look like they were a junior varsity team. I remember going bananas on one play. Keith said to me, "Richard, he is only 18". I responded that this is not a normal kid. I remember producer Kim Belton going nuts while sitting in the truck, laughing about the call.
I was jumping out of my seat, saying, "America, get ready, this is the next flat-out superstar in all of basketball. He is the three-S man, super, scintillating, sensational." He was special that day, and he sent the Wildcats home with a 10-point L.
That was just the beginning. Now, at the end, we can look back on a magnificent career.
Thanks for all of the memories, Shaq. Thank you for the thrills. You are flat-out awesome with a capital A, baby!