When Steve Kerr pulled the trigger on a trade that brought the Phoenix Suns one of the best big men in the history of the game, albeit in his older stages, he knew the deal would make him look like either a genius or a moron.
In hindsight that answer is obvious as Shaq only put the Suns closer to a championship upon his trade to Cleveland, but Kerr went for that deal because of a proven NBA fact over the course of the last two decades: If Shaquille O’Neal graces your roster you have a shot at a ring.
With Shaq announcing his retirement Wednesday on social media, fitting for all he did to grow Twitter among NBA players, his late-career stays in Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston will be seen as merely footnotes to a 19-year career that was perhaps the Most Dominant Ever, complete with four championship rings, 15 All-Star appearances and shockingly only one MVP trophy.
But he wasn’t that Shaq for the Suns. When the Shaqtus was dealt to Cleveland I summed up his Phoenix career like this:
Shaq was that rectangular-shaped Lego piece that you keep trying to jam into a square hole. Sometimes you can cram a piece of it in there and pretend like it works, such as what happened during the short-lived “Seven Seconds or Shaq” Era, but at the end of the day the piece just doesn’t fit.
The SSOL Suns pre-Shaq were the antithesis of what Shaq meant to this game, with small ball lineups, big men beating their opponents down the floor, fast-breaks galore and a style meant to tire out behemoths like Shaq.
Shaq fundamentally changed how the Suns were most effective (which can be seen in’s numbers from that time) and with just one playoff victory in a year a half his tenure can be known as nothing but a bust.
Yet Shaq played his last solid year in Phoenix when he earned third-team All-NBA honors, started the All-Star Game (who can forget his dance with the Jabbawockeez and co-MVP honor with Kobe) and still managed to average 17.8 and 8.4 while staying healthy most of the year for the final time.
Shaq’s presence brightened the Suns’ locker room be it through his bowling introduction skit or his prank war with Lou Amundson. That was part of the beauty of Shaq. Even when he was an unstoppable force in his prime he was always willing to have fun and show his human side.
It’s no surprise he took to Twitter before it was popular to do so during his time with the Suns, tweeting his location in the Valley and giving tickets to the first person to find him. He was always about finding creative ways to market himself and make the game fun, from his nicknames to his movies (which weren’t always fun).
Perhaps the Phoenix Suns as a basketball team would have been better off without trading for Shaq as he did not mesh with the rest of the team stylistically and found no success in the playoffs.
But even when he wasn’t dunking on hapless defenders, he sure made the NBA more entertaining.