Five top L.A. moments to remember as Shaq’s statue is unveiled outside the Staples Center
The big man left a big imprint
A 9-foot, 1,200-pound bronze statue of Shaquille O’Neal is scheduled to be unveiled in front of the Staples Center in Los Angeles Friday night.
Kobe Bryant, his former teammate, will be among the stars in attendance. So, too, will Jerry West, the man who brought both of them to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Phil Jackson, the Zen master who made them co-exist well enough to bring Los Angeles three straight titles, the first since Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers in 1988.
“They’re giving me a statue in front of the place I like to say I built,” a humbled yet still hilarious O’Neal told the Los Angeles Times. “Staples does start with S.”
Herewith, then, the Diesel’s Top 5 Moments in the City of Angels:
The Alley-oop from The Heavens
When you talk about major forks in the road, nothing was larger than the final moments of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on June 4, 2000.
Remember, Kobe and Shaq hadn’t won anything yet. They had been swept from the playoffs in consecutive years by the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs and it was unclear if they were ever going to get it together and win it all. They were up 3-1 on Portland, only to give back the next two games and have all the pressure on them for Game 7. The Blazers were up 18 points with less than 13 minutes left. They went into the fourth quarter up 15 before a silent home crowd that couldn’t believe it was happening again.
And then, lightning. Coming back from 15 down, Brian Shaw hitting 3s, Kobe and Shaq taking over. And the penultimate moment, a lob from Kobe that seemed too high for Shaq to control. But he somehow leapt, caught that ball and threw it down with malice. That play didn’t just seal their first trip to the NBA Finals, it was the beginning of the spectacular Bling Dynasty.
“Can You Dig It?”
By 2001, all the questions had been answered. And at the center of it all was the man whose teammates and friends called him “Big.” At the championship celebration that June, before thousands in downtown L.A., he grabbed the microphone and tried his hand at mimicking the good guys in the New York gangland movie The Warriors from 1979. And the crowd loved it. It even got a certain role player to dance worse than Elaine on Seinfeld. Mark Madsen nearly stole the show.
In the spring of 2000, O’Neal decided to take the long way home to his posh spread in Mulholland Estates, eschewing the traffic-choked I-405 for the city streets. He was on a custom-built Titan motorcycle, which leaned back as if he were an extra next to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider. But that wasn’t the half of it. He wore a candy-apple red matching helmet that barely fit his big ol’ head. Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes had nothing on him. As he gunned down Sepulveda Boulevard, he passed an American Express billboard with himself on it, pointing and smiling to a reporter trailing behind.
Finally, at a stoplight, a young girl of maybe 8, with the window rolled down in the passenger’s seat of her mother’s car, does three double-takes. “Mom, that’s Shaq!” she said. “On his motorcycle. Look.” Her mom: ”Why would he be in traffic, riding a big, red motorcycle in the middle of the afternoon?” O’Neal, hearing the entire conversation despite his purring motor, turns and smiles: “Because I want to?” He then gunned it toward home.
In June 2002, O’Neal lived next to the actor Tom Arnold, but he had forgotten his name. So when people asked what famous person lived by him, he would say, “That guy who took all of Roseanne’s money.” Anyhow, a reporter had what he believed was an exclusive invitation to the fifth-birthday party for Shaq’s son’s Miles.
Except when he pulled up, there was a valet service and at least 58 cars parked up and down his cul-de-sac. There was an In-N-Out Burger truck. There were at least five blow-up slides in the backyard. No parent merely dropped off a child for this party; they all stayed too. Almost all of the Lakers were there as well.
When Rick Fox was asked where O’Neal was, he pointed to a basketball goal across the yard, lowered from 10 feet to 8 feet so Miles and his young friends could shoot comfortably on it. Except Shaq was rejecting all of them. Really. He was swatting 5-year-olds’ shots into the pool, into the bounce houses, all over the yard. No kid scored.
The Daddy’s Jersey Retirement Ceremony
He was the most dominant center in franchise history since Wilt Chamberlain. In April 2013, his No. 34 was raised to the rafters, joining the greatest collection of pivots any organization – including the Boston Celtics – has ever known: George Mikan, Wilt, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and now Shaquille O’Neal.