O'Neal didn't play in Game 5 because of a lingering Achilles injury that is getting worse. The Heat won 97-87, eliminating the
Boston Celtics and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.
It leaves open the possibility that O'Neal's career could be at an end. O'Neal has a player option for next season but continuous injury problems and the specter of a lockout means there's a chance he has played his last game.
The news left Wade in a reflective mood even if he admits he's not sure if he'll ever speak to O'Neal personally again.
"He came into my life at a time where I needed some guidance, I was 22 years old and he helped me grow," Wade said referring to O'Neal's arrival in Miami in 2004. "I'm always appreciative of that whether we speak another day or whether we don't. He meant a lot to my basketball career and I meant a lot to his basketball career."
Wade called O'Neal "a living legend" and said the injuries that have slowed him over the last several years will not impact how he's remembered.
"Shaq is one of the most dominating players in our time," Wade said. "Who knows how long he's going to play, you can never take away anything he's done in this game. He set the blueprint for guys like Dwight Howard on and off the court. It's unfortunate you get to a point in your career where you have to be [slowed] by injuries."
Wade's teammate, LeBron James, also played with O'Neal last season when both were members of the Cleveland Cavaliers. James strongly lobbied team management to trade for O'Neal. They played together on a 60-win team but injuries derailed the end of the Cavs' season. They also don't have much of a relationship but James, like Wade, has significant respect for the four-time champion.
Especially, James said, for what O'Neal's been able to do off the floor by relating to fans and expanding his reach with movies, rap albums and television shows.
"He made fans believe they were at one with him," James said. "As big as Shaq is, the way his personality is, you wouldn't be afraid to go talk to him because you see how likeable he was. He laid the blueprint for a lot of people not only on the court but off the court, still to this day."
Brian Windhorst covers the Heat for ESPN.com.