Kevork Djansezian, File, Associated Press
WINDERMERE, Fla. — Shaquille O'Neal changed from his gray T-shirt and sweat pants into a three-piece suit, then walked by some of the souvenirs he accrued during his NBA days for the final time as an active player.
Framed jerseys from the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky, Mark McGwire, Kirby Puckett, Steve Young and Jerry Rice. An NBA finals MVP trophy. Bottles of wine with labels bearing the "S'' logo that he borrowed from Superman and essentially made his own. Basketballs with the Miami Heat logos painted on them, one to commemorate his 25,000th point, the other for his 10,000th rebound. A photo of he, Bill Russell and John Wooden.
It took him 19 years to collect those memories.
On Friday, he vowed to start truly savoring them.
"It's time for what's next," the Big Fella said.
O'Neal, 39, made his retirement official, reiterating what he revealed in a video posted to Twitter two days earlier that his NBA playing days are over. Saying those words where he did brought a full-circle piece of closure to his career, since it all ended at his home in a suburb of Orlando, the city where his pro days began when the Magic made him the No. 1 pick in 1992.
"Never thought this day would come," O'Neal said. "Father Time has finally caught up with Shaquille O'Neal."
Speculation has been high for weeks that O'Neal's playing days were over, and what was widely expected became real on Wednesday. It took him 10 seconds to announce his plan in a video posted to Twitter, and as few athletes in the world could do, those 10 seconds turned into a three-day story. Tributes have poured in since, and on Friday, O'Neal thanked just about everyone he could remember.
His parents, thanking his father for his disciplinary ways and his mother for sneaking him cake, milk and cookies when that discipline prevented the boy from getting his own. His brothers and sisters. His six children, who got an apology for his schedule demands and a promise that they would keep going to Toys "R'' Us. His fans worldwide. The NBA and Commissioner David Stern. The camaraderie in the locker room. The six teams he played with.
"And I'm really going to miss the free throws," deadpanned O'Neal, a notoriously bad foul-shooter.
A joker, all the way to the end.
He would not have it any other way.
He insisted he will not return, nor will he coach anyone but his three sons. His career ends with 28,596 points, 13,099 rebounds, 15 All-Star selections, four championships and three NBA finals MVP awards.
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world," O'Neal said.
For a finale, it was in a fitting place. He loves his home, surrounded by a golf course, ironic in the sense that O'Neal has no plans to take up the game in retirement.
O'Neal made his retirement official in a suburb of Orlando, the city where his NBA career began when the Magic drafted him No. 1 overall in 1992. He bought the home in 1993, and it's remained his base ever since — even after he left Orlando for Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston throughout the remainder of his NBA career.
The doorways are enormous, as one would expect when the primary occupant of the home is over 7 feet tall. Guests were ushered in across a red carpet laid out over his meticulous garage, which held luxury cars and motorcycles. Family and close friends gathered in the massive kitchen while the gymnasium filled for a celebration that was tinged for many with a bit of sadness.
"This is a bittersweet day on behalf of the family," said O'Neal's mother, Lucille Harrison. "It's been 19 years, but the 19 years have gone by so quick."
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