Dale Brown, who coached O'Neal at LSU, sat on Shaq's left. Brown told a slew of Shaq stories, including one when he asked permission to eat peanuts from a hotel minibar, not even considering sneaking the liquor instead. Brown lauded how O'Neal was raised and the charitable work he does, much of which Shaq does not reveal publicly.
O'Neal was so moved by Hurricane Katrina that not only did he arrange for tractor-trailers to bring supplies to storm-ravaged New Orleans, he personally went to oversee distribution efforts. And after that, Shaq considered signing with the New Orleans Hornets, thinking his mere presence in the city would help recovery efforts even more, but the deal simply fell through.
"He's an unbelievable person," Brown said. "He'll stay that way."
O'Neal's immediate future is uncertain. He'll likely work in television soon, but his health comes first. Injuries derailed him mightily this season with the Celtics, and if his injured Achilles' doesn't improve soon, surgery may be an option.
The ways he changed the game were countless. No one ever saw anyone with the combination of size, strength and athleticism before he came along. He was the first NBA big man to become a marketing giant. He spent huge money — $650,000 one year in Miami — to play Shaq-a-Claus for underprivileged kids at Christmas.
With O'Neal, everything wasn't always perfect. He clashed with teammates like Kobe Bryant at times, clashed with coaches like Stan Van Gundy at others. Nonetheless, those in the league still hold him in high esteem.
"A living legend," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
O'Neal said he leaves with some regrets, foremost among them not being able to reach 30,000 points. And while everyone knew what he would say on Friday, he was anxious, something his mother gently chided him for afterward.
"I was nervous, Momma," O'Neal said. "I'm sorry."
Everyone laughed, as they did several times throughout the ceremony. He joked that the New York Knicks were calling, wanting him to interview for their general manager job. He cited his work in "award-winning movies, such as Kazaam."
He turned serious at times, too, thanking coaches like Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers, and proudly saying that his doctorate will be completed by January at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla.
He'll then be called Dr. O'Neal.
Good thing, because all his famous nicknames — Shaq-Fu, The Big Aristotle, Diesel and especially Superman — are now retired along with him, he said.
Henceforth, he'll call himself The Big AARP, which that organization couldn't have been happier to hear.
"If you're like most of our members — half are still working, many more give back to their communities — you're not done yet, either," AARP CEO A. Barry Rand said in a statement. "There's plenty left to do, enjoy, and figure out after 'retirement,' so let us know if you want help figuring out what's next."
Shaq's got a long time to figure that out.
Tim Reynolds is on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds
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