Some time in the future, fans attending a game at the Staples Center will be able to say, “Look up in the rafters! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman’s retired jersey!”
The Los Angeles Lakers plan to honor their former self-proclaimed Superman, Shaquille O’Neal, by raising his No. 34 jersey to the rafters.
“We don’t have any specific timetable on this, but you can be assured we will retire Shaq’s jersey,” said Lakers spokesman John Black in an email on Wednesday.
O’Neal, 39, revealed his retirement earlier Wednesday using the new social media tool Tout, a real-time video messaging service, to announce to fans: “We did it. Nineteen years baby. I want to thank you very much, that’s why I’m telling you first, I’m about to retire. Love you, talk to you soon.”
O’Neal enjoyed the the bulk of the success during his 19-year NBA career in the eight seasons he spent in Los Angeles from 1996-2004, winning his lone regular season MVP award in 1999-00 and three consecutive Finals MVPs from 2000-02.
All seven other Lakers players to have their number retired are members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but the team may not wait for the requisite five-year grace period before O’Neal enters the Hall as a surefire, first ballot inductee before hosting the jersey ceremony.
“We don’t have a specific policy on it,” Black wrote. “As you know, players have to wait five years to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but we could possibly do a jersey retirement ceremony for Shaq prior to that.”
The Lakers will not purposefully hold off on O’Neal’s jersey retirement until Kobe Bryant’s jersey is retired, either.
“At this point in time I’d guess there’s a really good chance that Kobe will still be playing in five years, and by that time Shaq will be elected to the HOF and we will have retired his jersey,” Black wrote.
O’Neal retires with career averages of 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game on 58.2 percent shooting, but his numbers jumped to 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 514 regular season games played in L.A.
He was even more impressive in the three Finals wins against Indiana, Philadelphia and New Jersey, averaging 35.9 points, 15.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks the the Lakers’ three series wins.
O’Neal would become the eighth player in Lakers franchise history to have his jersey retired, joining 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).
O’Neal wore No. 32 in Orlando to start his career, but had to change to No. 34 when arriving in L.A. because of Johnson. He went back to No. 32 in Miami and Phoenix. He also wore No. 33 in Cleveland and No. 36 in Boston to finish his career.
The relationship between O’Neal and the Lakers spoiled before he was traded to the Heat in the summer of 2004. O’Neal’s butted heads with Bryant and was seeking a lucrative contract extenstion that the team did not want to offer, time has helped repair the rift.
“Shaq had a long and amazing career, with a huge impact both on and off the court,” Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss said in a statement on Wednesday. “His contributions were significant to the entire NBA, but we specifically appreciate what he did with and what he meant to the Lakers during his eight years with us. We have three championships that we wouldn’t have won without him, and we will forever be grateful for his significant contributions to those teams.”
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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