Shaquille O'Neal expresses gratitude toward the Lakers
In a press conference that consisted of plenty of jokes, some remorse for struggling from the free throw line and some revisionist history, former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal gave his official retirement announcement at his Orlando residence, expressing nothing but gratitude toward the Lakers' organization.
It's well-documented that O'Neal and Kobe Bryant had a tumultuous relationship during his eight-year career with the Lakers, with reasons ranging from Bryant's dislike for O'Neal's work ethic, O'Neal's dislike for Bryant's shooting tendencies and Bryant, when he was suspected of sexual assault, telling authorities that O'Neal paid off mistresses. But O'Neal insisted all the verbal jousting that ultimately led to the Lakers trading him to Miami to 2004 didn't indicate the two were on bad terms.
"A lot of people on the outside looking in would say Kobe and I had problems," O'Neal said. "But no, as a CEO who was task-driven, as a CEO you have to differentiate relationship-driven and task-driven. I was task driven. The task was to win championships. I pushed Kobe's buttons. Kobe pushed my buttons. We were able to win three out of four. I did the same thing with D Wade. A lot of people didn't understand my tactics, but it was business.
"A lot of people think we hate each other, but I see Kobe and his beautiful wife and his beautiful daughters all the time and I go to the babies and say hi, it's Uncle Shaq and they say hi, we kiss them on the cheek. It's all about the task."
It's well-documented that Shaq didn't always listen to Phil Jackson's coaching tactics, took offense to Jackson questioning his work ethic and once accused Jackson of orchestrating the drama intentionally between him and Bryant. But as O'Neal reflected on his 19-year career that included stints with the Orlando Magic, Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, he singled out two particular coaches -- Doc Rivers and Jackson.
"Phil Jackson is the one who taught me how to really focus," O'Neal said, "and concentrate on what's going on and getting to that championship level."
And it's also well-documented that O'Neal didn't end on the best of terms with Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who received a verbal jab from O'Neal during a preseason game demanding that he get paid. When the Lakers traded O'Neal to Miami, he took swipes at Buss' playboy lifestyle.
It's debatable whether O'Neal's mixed relationship with the Lakers has completely evaporated, but it stayed well enough for Buss and O'Neal to talk Thursday about dinner plans, while the team released a statement expressing appreciation for his role in the Lakers' three-peat from 2000-2002 and announced that they will retire his No. 34 jersey in the Staples Center rafters. There's no word yet on a statue, but O'Neal gladly deferred to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who publicly said the Lakers' failure to honor him was one of many examples in which the organization has disrespected him.
"I did a lot there," O'Neal said of his time with the Lakers. "I didn't do more than the big fella, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, so business-wise let's take care of the big fella first. After that, if they want to come around and give me a statue, I'll accept it. If not, I'll understand."
Even if Lakers fans have expressed appreciation for bringing excitement into the Lakers organization and for helping the team win three titles, many of them have also argued O'Neal underachieved because of his ongoing injury issues, because he'd arrive at training camp out of shape and of course, because of his incidents with Bryant. But the only hint of remorse O'Neal expressed entailed a facet of his game that opponents continuously exploited.
"I definitely won't be back and let me tell you the reason why. Toward the end of my career, I always started to get a little bit selfish. I've always heard the two most dominant players were Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal. Wilt is at 31,000 [points] and I'm at 28,000. If I had 100 points fewer than him, I would come back to pass him up and that would put me as the most dominant player in the world. But I'm three years away.
"If I would've been at my highest potential, I'd probably be the No. 2 scorer and this probably would've been a better conference. That's the only thing I'm upset with about."
-- Mark Medina
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