Suns celebration matrix: Remembering Shaq's immortal hand

Celebrations

Thanks to a bit of boredom and inspiration from Shea Serrano’s NBA Celebrations Matrix on Grantland, I’ve used some awful cut-and-paste skills above to investigate which Phoenix Suns players in the past decade had the best celebrations. It felt necessary to consider them in context to the four variables that Serrano used in his matrix. More generally, I was just hoping to rehash some of the best Suns celebration techniques. So far, we’ve covered Stephon Marbury’s funny face after Amare’s dunk and Goran Dragic’s onions dance in the 2013 EuroBasket event. Most recently, I hit on Tim Thomas’ “Cant’ See Me” gesture that was a staple in his brief time with the Suns. Next up: The Shaqtus.

Watch the whole video above and reminisce, or skip to the 1:50 mark, where a left-handed Shaquille O’Neal layup becomes a big deal. Shaq apparently doesn’t do left-handed layups all that often. There’s no need when he can bull people out of the way and slam it home.

This time is different as he catches a pass from Steve Nash and lays it home softly. So he stares at his magical left hand as he retreats to the defensive end. Maybe it could shoot free throws for him.

As someone who grew up in the post-Jordan era, my eyes were always on guys like Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury, who were built up in the culture that eventually saw David Stern banning baggy pants and the one that made cornrows cool. The magazine industry led by SLAM and Dime can confirm those were the two characters who had this aura about them — they deserve a lot of credit for the growth and success of those two magazines.

From a cultural perspective, Iverson and Marbury overshadowed the frequent winners like Tim Duncan, who these days is finally getting his dues. Duncan never had much to add to the cultural footprint of basketball with his jorts and his quiet nature. Shaq on the other hand was in god-like territory. It fit the on-paper expectations that Iverson’s Sixers were the underdogs when they met O’Neal’s Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals. It was classic David and Goliath, and that only helped to build Iverson’s image (thanks Tyronn Lue).

I bring this up to remind what Shaq was before he came to Phoenix. Shaq’s time with the Phoenix Suns wasn’t very long, but in my mind it almost never happened. Forget that the Suns weren’t as good as they looked on paper. This was all a dream to me because the man who already played a beyond-human character in a movie (Kazaam was awful, but still) really wasn’t human on the court. As a basketball fan, I didn’t want to remember him as a Suns player. He couldn’t have been the same guy. But he showed flashes — credit Suns training staff here — that it was still there. I didn’t remember he scored 45 points against the Raptors and averaged nearly 18 points per game. In my head, he made the All-Star game because of his designation as a center more than anything. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention while I was off at college.

I do remember O’Neal’s other contributions in Phoenix, but few of them came on the court. He played a cop in a Steve Nash short, SuperBadge. There was Shaq flying into the stands, then the Suns bench fearing Shaq flying into the stands. There was Shaq being fouled in the first moment at the very beginning of the season, the first time I learned Gregg Popovich had a fantastic sense of humor. Most recently, we learned there was the naked wrestling.

Shaq making a simple move, then staring down at his left hand probably was all a show, as usual. It also symbolized the mortality for Superman, the player I always remembered as the Goliath that Allen Iverson wasn’t good enough to beat. I have always remembered that.

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