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NBA 75 Series: #11 Shaquille O’Neal

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Ranked at #11 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time list, and arguably the most dominant force in NBA history, who broke backboards and bulldozed his way through double and triple teams to terrorize the rim, is none other than Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal was born on March 6, 1972, in Newark, New Jersey, to his mother, Lucille, and father, Toney. O’Neal’s father was a stud basketball player himself; as an All-State guard in high school, he was offered a scholarship to play at Seton Hall.

Unfortunately, O’Neal’s father struggled with drug addiction and would end up sentenced to prison for drug possession when O’Neal was just an infant. Toney would relinquish his parental rights to the man who would make an indelible impact on O’Neal’s life: his Jamaican stepfather, sergeant Philip Arthur Harrison, who had a military background. O’Neal came from a tall family, with his mom standing at six-foot-one, which is taller than most women.

O’Neal towered over most at a very young age, standing at six-foot-six at just 13 years of age. Sergeant Harrison's military background resulted in the family leaving Newark for military bases in Germany and Texas. He became an integral part of O’Neal’s life by teaching him discipline, respect, how to be a man and so forth. He was the one who got O’Neal to study three of the greatest big men to ever play the game: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Harrison brought O’Neal to see the great Julius Erving, aka “Dr.J, '' play in person, and from that moment on, the legend of Shaquille O’Neal was born. Standing at six-foot-ten at 16, O’Neal would go on to play high school basketball at Robert G. Cole High School, in San Antonio, Texas, where he would lead them to a 68-1 record over his two years, while capturing the state title his senior year and setting the state record that season in rebounds, with 791.

He would be named a McDonald’s All-American in 1989, and he would go on to be named co-MVP, with a statline of 18 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocks!

Many colleges were trying to obtain the freak of nature, Shaquille O’Neal, and the lucky winner was the LSU Tigers, where O’Neal would play under Dale Brown, whom Shaq had met years earlier in Europe while he was with his stepfather in the U.S. Army Base.

During his freshman season, in 1989-90, O’Neal averaged 13.9 points, 12 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game, with 57% from the field. He would more than double his scoring average during his sophomore season, in 1990-91, to 27.6 points per game! O’Neal also averaged 14.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and a jaw dropping five blocks per game! He shot 62% from the field and demonstrated all the components of a franchise centerpiece that NBA franchises were salivating over.

The Tigers made their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance when they played the UConn Huskies. They lost to the Huskies in the opening round of the tournament, but O’Neal showed he could dominate on the big stage by putting up 27 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks on 50% shooting. He led the NCAA in rebounds and blocks his sophomore season, along with being named the UPI Player of the Year and the Adolph Rupp Trophy recipient.

O’Neal came back for his junior season, in 1991-92, where he would average 24.1 points, 14 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 5.2 blocks per game. He was named the SEC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, as well as the first team All-American.

In the opening round of the tournament that year against BYU, O’Neal scored 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds on 64% shooting; but the most mind-boggling stat had to be his 11 blocks, as he swatted and snatched the souls out of BYU. The Tigers went on to play the Indiana Hoosiers, where he scored 36 points on 66% shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds, had 2 steals and blocked 3 shots. Unfortunately, it was a losing effort, and the Hoosiers knocked the Tigers out in round 32.

O’Neal would go on to forgo his senior year at LSU to enter his name in the 1992 NBA Draft, where he was the consensus No.1 favorite and got selected to the Orlando Magic. He was an instant force in the league, despite being just 20 years old, averaging 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game in just his rookie season! He would go on to win the 1992-93 NBA Rookie of the Year award and was named an All-Star starter, making him the first rookie to have that name since Michael Jordan in 1985.

Shaq led the Magic to a 41-41 record, 20 games better than the previous season, and he only missed the postseason due to a tiebreaker with the Indiana Pacers. Ultimately, O’Neal became the most dominant force in NBA history, this side of Wilt Chamberlain, and he was definitely the most dominant force in the modern era and will probably always be.”The Big Diesel,” as they called him, literally broke so many backboards and rims in the NBA that they had to change the way the hoops were made to sustain his level of ferocity when he dunked the ball. Just imagine if he was more dedicated and made free throws… frightening. He first formed a duo with the dynamic Penny Hardaway. He and Shaq helped the Magic reach their first ever NBA Finals in 1995 but ultimately came up short to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

Shaq later formed the most dynamic guard-big-man duo in league history, with the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant, and “Zen Master” coach, Phil Jackson, where they would go on to do a three-peat (2000-2002), which only two other teams in NBA history have ever done: Bill Russell’s Celtics and Jordan’s Bulls. Shaq won all three of those Finals MVPs, being one of just five players in league history to win three or more. He bruised and battered defenders out of his way for powerful slams, giving them body aches and pains after they guarded him. He was a force the moment he came into the league and won the 1993 ROTY.

He also was a league MVP (2000), four-time champion, three-time All-Star Game MVP and 14-time all-NBA, with three all-defensive team selections. He led the league in scoring twice and was the youngest member of the NBA’s 50th anniversary team, being just 25 years old at the time… boy, did they get that right. His personality was infectious and contagious to his teammates and fans worldwide.

He showed that one can be more than a basketball player by making movies and even rapping early on in his career. He was a giant with a gentle heart, but when it came time to be on the court, he was an absolute menace and unlike anything the NBA had ever seen. He and Bryant sadly rifted and would have won more championships together; but instead he won another with Dwyane Wade in 2006 as the second fiddle. Shaq bounced around the league on teams, such as the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, until his retirement in 2011. We will never see another Shaq.

Is Shaq in your top 10 all time?

  • Hell Yeah!

  • Just outside

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