SALT LAKE CITY — Shaq quit, and the Mavs didn't.
That, in a nutshell, sums up an eventful week in the National Basketball Association.
Shaquille O'Neal, a guy who has four NBA championship rings and at least twice that many nicknames, many of which were self-proclaimed, ended weeks of speculation by officially announcing his retirement a few days ago.
It marks the end of an era that started more than 20 years ago when O'Neal was a collegiate star at Louisiana State.
Since that time, the big, fun-loving fella created a personna which, much like his own gigantic physical stature, was larger than life.
At 7-feet-1 and 325 pounds — his listed playing weight, which definitely must've been written down sometime long before dinner — Shaq was a dominating presence on the basketball court.
Along the way, he got himself a long list of goofy nicknames like "The Big Aristotle," "The Diesel," "Shaq Fu," "Big Daddy," "Superman," "The Big Galactus" and "MDE," which stood for "Most Dominant Ever."
But, in all honesty, he wasn't the most dominant big man to ever play the game.
Oh, sure, there were nights when he looked truly unstoppable. His impressive size and strength certainly made him look that way at times, and when he'd lower his shoulder and plow his way through defenders on his way to the basket, he was like a big, mean, snortin' Brahma bull coming out of a chute at a rodeo.
But, let's face it, many of his predecessors were better than Shaq was.
Bill Russell was a far better defender than Shaq ever thought of being, and Russell had an uncanny leadership ability and unyielding will to win that resulted in 11 NBA championships during his career.
Shaq's scoring and rebounding ability paled in comparison to that of another giant, Wilt Chamberlain — although their maddening free-throw shooting "skills" were quite similar.
And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the unstoppable "Sky Hook") and Hakeem Olajuwon (the "Dream Shake") each had far better offensive skills in the low post than O'Neal ever did.
But none of them had as much fun playing the game, or brought as much fun to it, as Shaq did.
He played with a boyish, wide-eyed, big-grinned enthusiasm, often hamming it up for the crowd and the cameras. Indeed, he was an entertainer.
He could be downright hilarious, but he'd often say things that incensed people, like calling the Sacramento Kings the "Queens" and making remarks that weren't politically correct, along with his well-publicized feud and raunchy rap comments directed at former teammate Kobe Bryant.
I remember trying to interview O'Neal in the Lakers' locker room after a regular-season game at the then-Delta Center. There were probably 20 or more media members hovering around him at his cubicle as he sat there, head down, mumbling something in such a low, soft voice that it was impossible to hear or understand him — even after I went back and listed to my tape recorder and turned the volume up full-blast.
I learned later that was something Shaq really liked to do — mess with the media, all the while purposely frustrating the heck out of those of us who wanted to know what the big man had to say about the game that he'd just played.
And I remember the gold chain he had around his neck that night — with links almost the same size you'd tow a truck with, attached to a big, gold basketball going through a basket. That thing must've weighed at least 20 pounds. But hey, it looked good on Shaq, a man so massive that, when he stood next to Karl Malone (6-9, 265 pounds) along the lane on a free throw, the buffed-up Mailman looked like a scrawny little kid.
Yes, with his size, strength and agility, Shaq should've been the Most Dominant Ever, perhaps the greatest player of all time. But he didn't ever get himself in good enough shape, improve his game or work on his weaknesses enough to truly wear the title of MDE. Instead, he relied on his monstrous size to get the job done — size which betrayed him when that big body started breaking down later in his career.
So he'll just have to settle for being the most dominant big man of his era, which ended this past week.
Speaking of something being "over," well, we certainly thought the NBA Finals were pretty much a done deal when the Miami Heat took a 15-point lead over the Dallas Mavericks with 7:15 remaining in Game 2 on Thursday.
The Heat were seemingly headed for a 2-0 series lead, and everyone knew it'd be next to impossible for the Mavs to win four of the next five Finals games in order to take the title and deny Miami's "Dream Team" — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh & Co. — of a championship.
But Dirk Nowitzki fueled a furious Dallas comeback, as the Mavs outscored Miami 22-5 over the final 7 minutes to come away with an improbable 95-93 road win and square the series at 1-1, with the next three games in Dallas.
Yes, Shaq may have decided to quit, but the Mavs most definitely did not.
And, consequently, Dallas now has a legitimate chance at the franchise's first NBA championship.
We'll find out whether the Mavs can make the most of their glorious opportunity, and if the Heat are suffering from a huge hangover, when Game 3 tips off tonight.
It's such a promising series showdown that even "Shaq Fu" will likely be watching — especially now that he's got a lot of free time on his hands.
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