On Friday, before their game with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled their newest Staples Center statue to honor one of the best to ever wear a Lakers uniform — Shaquille O’Neal. The Lakers have honored former players Magic Johnson and Jerry West as well as legendary announcer Chick Hearn with statues. Unlike their statues, O’Neal’s hangs above the ground.
Joining O’Neal for the ceremony was Jeanie Buss, owner of the Lakers, Lee Zeidman, the President of Staples Center. Many of O’Neal’s former teammates and coaches were there as well: Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Gary Payton and Slava Medvedenko, Phil Jackson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant. Lakers color commentator Stu Lantz hosted the celebration.
Abdul-Jabbar told the crowd, “When I look up at that statue, I will see the kind of talented, passionate and generous man that we’ve been building statues to for 30,000 years. And we should all be inspired to be our best selves.” Abdul-Jabbar also compared O’Neal’s opponents to, “…those tiny, little biplanes try to take down King Kong.”
Abdul-Jabbar also made a joke about Bryant, saying, “Some people thought the odds of Kobe Bryant showing up today were the same as Shaq sinking a free throw.”
Shaq’s former teammate — and another Lakers legend — Kobe Bryant called him “…the most dominant player I’ve ever seen.”
Former Lakers guard and G.M. Jerry West (who signed O’Neal in 1996) said, of his community commitments and contributions, “Behind the scenes, this was one of the most giving human beings I have ever seen in my life. He (made) acts of kindness for a lot of people that you will never know.”
Current President of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson, was unable to attend but he had a video speech for the honoree and his fans. He said, “You came in and took the city by storm with your play, but also with your personality — and giving back to the community.”
Johnson, who had retired as a player by then, was asked by the late owner Jerry Buss and West to recruit O’Neal and bring him from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers. “Superman,” as he was sometimes called, was made for La La Land, Los Angeles. Shaquille O’Neal was a super star on and off the court.
He has a long list of credits on the big and little screen, starting with Blue Chips in 1994 and Kazaam in 1996. His TV credits are even longer, having appeared in Arli$$, the Bernie Mac Show and The Parkers. He is currently an analyst on TNT’s Emmy Award-winning NBA on TNT. Even if they aren’t very interested in the teams playing, many fans tune in just for the laughs and entertainment of seeing O’Neal on the same stage as Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson.
The statue is nine feet tall and weight 1,200 pounds and is 10 feet off the ground in Star Plaza. Jokingly, Zeidman said he was afraid the statue might bring the entire Staples Center down, in reference to the number of backboards O’Neal broke in his 19-year career.
In those 19 years Shaq Daddy was named an All Star 15 times, the NBA Finals MVP three times, the NBA MVP once, and All NBA First Team eight times. He averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
In his acceptance speech, O’Neal said he hoped fans would remember him thids way: “Here’s a guy who played with a lot of force, A guy that wanted the crowd to go crazy.” Shaq added, “… I always tried to dunk to intimidate my opponents, but to also make the crowd go crazy.”
He made the crowd crazy one more time when he finished his speech with his signature victory parade quip: “You know itt’s coming. Can you dig it? Can you dig it?”
The large crowd of fans assembled at Star Plaza did go crazy and were definitely digging it.
One final note: The Lakers won that night, beating the Timberwolves, 130-119, led by Jordan Clarkson who had a career high 35 points. Julius Randle finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Andrew Wiggins of the T-Wolves had 36 points.
Photos by LAPX