On Friday, Shaquille O’Neal finally got his statue at Staples Center.
The “Big Aristotle” earned a few jabs from LA Lakers royalty, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talked about O’Neal’s memorable performance in Kazaam–memorable for all the wrong reasons, of course.
Jerry West, who is literally the logo of the NBA, arrived late due to traffic but offered a poignant speech about how O’Neal asked for $150 million from the Lakers, which was an absurd amount to request back in 1996. Instead, the Lakers gave the “Shaq” $120 million for a seven-year contract that yielded three NBA championships and three NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards.
While O’Neal’s kids and Jeanie Buss spoke with emotion, feeling and humor, Kobe Bryant’s presence on the stage next to his former side kick drew the most attention, and Bryant’s speech drew the loudest cheers from the fans.
During his speech, Abdul-Jabbar even joked, “Some people thought the odds of Kobe Bryant showing up today were the same as Shaq making a free throw.”
Bryant, though, gave a warm speech where he spoke about how dominant and great a basketball players O’Neal was, rather than the high character and larger than life personality the other speakers had focused in on.
“I think we’ve heard a lot of stories about Shaq today, but what we haven’t talked about is how good of a player he was,” Bryant spoke over a crowd that had been chanting “Kobe! Kobe!” as he started speaking.
“The most dominant player I’ve ever seen,” Bryant spoke about how O’Neal would be a fun loving guy, but before tip-off, the big center got serious and seemingly turned on a switch that showed that he wasn’t out there to do work.
O’Neal played to win and to dominate.
When the big man took the microphone, he thanked all of his former teammates and told the story of how he came to LA. O’Neal thanked everyone in attendance. When he got to Bryant, O’Neal smiled.
“The next time we’re out here for a statue, it’ll probably be your statue,” O’Neal said to Bryant.
Ultimately, though, the fan favorite finished with a focus on the crowd that had flooding behind the barricades.
“I just wanted you to know that I heard you in the games when I was missing free throws,” O’Neal smiled. “I heard it. I heard you in the game when I wasn’t rebounding like I was supposed to be. I heard it all, but thank you for staying on me. Thank you for motivating me.”
O’Neal then continued by thanking familiar faces he saw in the crowd before turning out to the crowd of purple and gold assembled like they were once again celebrating a championship in 2000, 2001 or 2001.
“As I look here, I have to do it. You know what’s coming,” O’Neal primed the crowd that began to yell.