NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal was feted by an array of Los Angeles Lakers greats as a massive statue of him delivering a thundering dunk was unveiled at Staples Center.
Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Jerry West — who brought O’Neal to Los Angeles, former teammate Kobe Bryant and coach Phil Jackson were among those paying tribute to O’Neal as the nine-foot (2.74m), 1,200 pound (544 kg) bronze likeness was revealed — suspended 10 feet above the ground in the Star Plaza.
“This moment is very unexpected,” O’Neal told the crowd. “I definitely appreciate this honor very much.”
O’Neal joined West, Abdul-Jabbar and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, NHL icon Wayne Gretzky — who put the Los Angeles Kings on the map — boxer Oscar De La Hoya and broadcaster Chick Hearn in being immortalized at the downtown Los Angeles arena.
“Some thought the odds of Kobe showing up today were the same as Shaq sinking a free-throw,” Abdul-Jabaar quipped, a reference to the infamous falling-out between the teammates that led to O’Neal’s departure from the Lakers in a 2004 trade with the Miami Heat.
But Bryant had only words of admiration for O’Neal, who joined the Lakers in 1996 and won NBA titles with the club in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
O’Neal was the 1999-2000 NBA Most Valuable Player and those three title runs all saw him named MVP of the Finals.
Bryant called O’Neal “the most dominating player I’ve ever seen”.
“He’s such a fun, outgoing guy,” Bryant added. “Loves to tell jokes, loves to have fun with his teammates, practical jokes. But before the tip-off, something happens. The switch goes off for him. He’s no longer joking around. He’s no longer playing around. He’s not smiling anymore. He’s out there and he’s trying to dominate.”
O’Neal, for his part, said Bryant pushed him to greatness.
“Brother, thank you,” he said. “We pushed each other, you know, we had our battles, we had our times. But we always had respect for each other and we were able to win three championships — definitely couldn’t have done it without you.
“I appreciate you very much,” he added, predicting Bryant’s would be the next likeness to grace the plaza.
O’Neal was visibly moved by speeches from three of his six children, thanking his family for standing by him during the grinding years of his NBA career and the time it demanded he spend away from home.
“The way you delivered those speeches — you’re going to law school, you’re going to law school, you’re going to law school,” he said.
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