The Big Shaqtus calls it quits after an entertaining career

Even during a disappointing year and a half in Phoenix, The Big Cactus was always lots of fun. (AP/Paul Connors)

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 Steve Nash’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.

Tags: Shaquille O'Neal

  • Steve

    Shaq’s retirement has sparked many debates about the best big men of all time. I vote we have one. Here is my top 10 (in order):

    10. Bill Walton
    9. Artis Gilmore
    8. Bob Pettit
    7. Moses Malone
    6. Shaquille O’Neal
    5. David Robinson
    4. Hakeem Olajuwon
    3. Lew Alcindor
    2. Wilt Chamberlain
    1. Bill Russell

    I have a hard time rating Russell #1 overall, because he was statistically inferior to every other player on this list, but my heart tells me that all the championships don’t lie.

    What do you guys think? If you put Duncan in there as a 5 (which he really is), then I would insert Duncan at 5 and kick everyone else down a notch (although I’d feel bad about not seeing Walton on there).

  • Steve

    Whoops, I made a serious mistake. I completely forgot about another guy I would consider top 5 for sure. George Mikan. Mr. Basketball himself. Move over, Olajuwon. Mikan is #4.

  • Cam

    I know this isn’t the right post for it but what do you think it would take for the Suns to get Paul Millsap for from the Jazz and on another note, if we took on Johnny Flynn from the Timberwolves, as recent news says Rubio is coming to minny, what could we get out of them. Would the Suns be able to dump a bad contract like Warricks to either team. I think the Jazz need a swingman and Pietrus would seem like a good fit for them while Millsap would blend in well for the Suns. I know minny has a glutton of PF’s so I don’t know what we could hope for other than maybe a pick from them but dumping Warrick somewhere else would be nice. Go Suns.

  • Cam

    I agree with your list except I would insert Moses Malone ahead of The Admiral and Shaquille. IMHO Moses played as well if not better than those two, while “only” being 6’10″ over the course of his career. Plus he had 37 rebounds in one game for crying out loud. Go Suns.

  • Steve

    I wouldn’t argue with that. Moses was the man. I think you could make a legitimate case for anybody 1-10 to be considered the #1 big of all time. Bill Walton is where I would cut it off and say you’ve definitely entered the second tier.

  • Michael Schwartz

    I think Millsap is an attractive option. There was of course talk of a three-team deal with Chicago that would involve Pietrus and Lopez, but I don’t think that was rejected by the Phoenix side. I suppose the pick could be an attractive addition to the deal, but Utah does already have three lottery picks. I don’t really like Flynn at all. You would only make a play for him if you think he can be your point guard of the future and I don’t feel that way about him at all.

    As for the centers list, I’d be tempted to put Shaq fourth. He has four rings (as many as Robinson and Dream combined) and was as purely dominant as any big man since Wilt. Aside from the free throw line, there was literally no way to stop prime Shaq. Russell is another interesting one, but if you go with the rings argument he has to be first. I think Kareem/Wilt is a toss-up as well since Kareem is the all-time scoring leader and has more rings as dominant as Wilt was.