Lakers plan to retire Shaquille O'Neal's jersey number
"There is no timetable and there is no plan other than yes, we definitely plan at some point to retire his jersey," Lakers spokesman John Black said.
The news, as first reported by ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, coincides with O'Neal's announcement Wednesday that he will retire after a 19-year career that spanned four NBA championships, three Finals most-valuable-player awards, one regular-season MVP award and 15 All-Star appearances. He is in fifth place on the league's all-time scoring list (28,596 points) and has cemented his legacy as one of the NBA's dominant centers.
"We did it," O'Neal said on the social-media site Tout, a video-messaging service. "Nineteen years, baby. I want to thank you very much, that's why I'm telling you."
Although O'Neal's career spanned six teams, including the Orlando Magic, Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, most of his professional success happened during his eight-year tenure with the Lakers. After signing with the Lakers as a free agent in 1996 on a seven-year, $120-million deal, O'Neal breathed life into an organization that had foundered since the Showtime Era, and he paved the way to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002. O'Neal averaged 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 514 regular-season games with the Lakers, a jump from his career averages of 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks.
The relationship with O'Neal and the Lakers suffered at times. His ongoing drama with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, questions about his work ethic and injury history and a $30-million-a-year demand to Buss prompted him to trade Shaq in 2004 to the Miami Heat. Despite frequent digs at the organization, Bryant and Jackson, the relationship has at least warmed. At the encouragement of former Celtics center Bill Russell, O'Neal and Bryant made peace in 2006. O'Neal accepted the Lakers' invitation to attend Jerry West's statue unveiling during All-Star weekend in February. And Buss released a statement Wednesday thanking O'Neal for his contributions to the Lakers.
Whenever O'Neal's jersey retirement takes place, he will join Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13), Elgin Baylor (No. 22), Gail Goodrich (No. 25), Earvin "Magic" Johnson (No. 32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (No. 33), James Worthy (No. 42) and Jerry West (No. 44). All seven of those players are members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and Black said the team may not wait for the five-year waiting period before O'Neal likely will be inducted. He also said the Lakers won't intentionally wait to retire Bryant's jersey before O'Neal, especially considering Bryant has a three-year, $83.5-million contract running through the 2013-14 season.
"We don't really have a policy on it," Black said. "But as you can see from the people whose jerseys have been retired, they're all in the Hall of Fame. We have what we think is a high standard. If we're going to retire somebody's jersey, it's going to be of someone deserving."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal has some fun on the court during a game against the Houston Rockets in 2002. O'Neal announced his retirement Wednesday. Credit: Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times/March 3, 2002