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Shaquile Oneal Essay

In July 2004, Pat Riley made what was at the time unquestionably the biggest trade in the history of the Miami Heat, for Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal arrived saying "I'm going to bring a championship to Miami. I promise." Thus began one of the most maddening, egotistical, fun and victorious periods in team history.

For the first half of this three-and-a-half years in Miami it seemed the Shaq experiment might have been a failure, until the team kept O'Neal's promise by winning the 2005-06 title over the Mavericks. Even after that, things were never smooth, and eventually in February 2008 O'Neal was traded away to Phoenix after an argument with Riley.

In the words of those who were there, this is the behind-the-scenes story of O'Neal's time in Miami.

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Heat president Pat Riley
You're talking about one of the most dominant players in the history of the game. Even though we made some very good deals before that, but until then we never really had the opportunity to acquire a player of his stature. Global, domestic, league superstar, who is in his prime.

So 10 years after I got here, I had the opportunity to trade for him and I wasn't going to pass it up. I felt that what you need is impactful superstars. In order to win championships, you got to have impact stars and there wasn't a bigger one on the planet than Shaquille O'Neal. He was probably the most important acquisition that we've ever made. The biggest trade that we've ever made since I've been here is Shaquille O'Neal.

Thank God we did.

Former Heat star and current Bulls guard Dwyane Wade
When I first heard the news that we were possibly getting Shaq, I remember telling everyone around me, it's not true. I didn't think it was possible. Shaq is one the biggest guys in the world. Not just stature. So for me to think I was going to play with him in my second year in the league was unreal. Then it happened. I was at the Olympics and I knew I had to step it up. I knew acquiring a player like that wasn't just to sell tickets. We were doing it to really win.

Heat power forward Udonis Haslem
He definitely didn't come to Miami by accident. He wanted to be in Miami and saw a young talent in Dwyane. Saw the opportunity he had in Miami and was very particular about the situation that he wanted to put himself in and to put himself in a situation to win.

This is where he wanted to be. He felt the organization was stable, a great owner and a young talent in Dwyane Wade. He liked Eddie Jones because he played with him earlier in his career in L.A. He liked the whole concept of coming to Miami.

Former center and current Heat V.P. Alonzo Mourning
Partly, it was about proving to the [Los Angeles] Lakers that he could win somewhere else. That he didn't need them to win. Also, it was about him fulfilling his promise to the city of Miami. It really was.


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Yeah, I got the sense he was motivated. Pissed off or motivated, however you want to look at it. He was definitely motivated about how the situation ended in L.A. Any time he got the chance he got to play the Lakers he wanted that W by any means necessary.

He knew what I was about. I was all about business. Just come in and try to help contribute the best way I could. Play my role. I knew I could have started on a lot of teams in the league during that time. But it wasn't even about that. It was about one thing. It was about winning.

I remember shaking his hand and I remember him immediately instilling confidence in me. He said, we were going to get it done. That he came to Miami to win a championship. He raised the bar from Day 1.

He expressed to me just how hungry he was to win another title and not just because of anything that might have happened in the past. ... He made the commitment not only to get himself in great physical condition, but also to be a dominating player.

In Shaq's first season (2004-05), with Stan Van Gundy as the head coach, the Heat reached the Eastern Conference finals and lost in Game 7 to the defending champion Detroit Pistons.

Everyone has seen Shaq over the years. Big goofball. He always kept our locker room light when we needed it to be with his silliness. We just had some good laughs. He knew how to turn it on when it was game time. He knew how to keep our locker room and practices light.

He spent some time running around the locker room naked. If you can imagine somebody 7-foot and 300 pounds running around the locker room naked, bear hugging and body slamming people. If your mind can go there.

I'm going to let that one stay with the players.

[LAUGHTER] He knew to stay away from me, because I would have hit him in the nuts. He definitely kept it loose. Those times were comical. He would really torture the ball boys. He would grab them and jump on them, butt naked. He would grab them and roll all over the floors with them. It was hilarious.

He's truly a gregarious, funny, practical joker. He's great to be around. Our locker rooms were raucous before games, after games, buses and plane trips. He's not just a happy-go-lucky guy. He's a funny man and witty man. Then he gets very serious. He's going to live life.

O'Neal (to Sports Illustrated in 2010)
I never got any rest in Miami. I still don't know how we won that championship. I f---ing partied every night in Miami.

He was a very, very, very generous person. He took care of a lot of the staff. I remember he had a ritual every night; Madeleine Arison's mom [owner Micky Arison's mother-in-law] used to come to the games all the time with Micky and Madeleine. Every single night Shaq used to take a rose and have it delivered right over to her before he jumped center. He would acknowledge her. She passed away in 2006.

Shaq would always rub my championship ring prior to every single start of the game. Telling me, "We're going to get one of those, Coach." He would shower a lot of the employees with gifts and things of that nature. I found him to be a person that people around here love. They love Shaq. It was a good time to be part of the Miami Heat.

Having a guy who commanded a double team was big. When we ran a 1-5 pick-and-roll, I mean, Jesus. It was tough for people to guard. Then just his knowledge of the game from playing with so many greats, Kobe [Bryant] and Penny [Hardaway]. I ate it all up. Even though I was a different player than those guys, I was a similar position. I knew what I needed to do to be successful because of conversations that we he had. On the court, the confidence he instilled in everybody and the swagger that we all walked with was second to none. Off the court, I was young, shy kid from Chicago. He helped me come out of my shell a bit as well.

Shaq knew he couldn't win without Dwyane flourishing. Dwyane being a young player, he just took the ball and went with it, and Shaq said fine.

He always told us to stick to our routines. Don't change your routine. If this is what works for you, this is what you need to do. If you missed a couple of shots one night, come back the next night and shoot the same shots with confidence. He never looked down upon anybody. Kept everyone at the same level, even though he was a Hall of Famer and probably the best in the game at that time.

It took a little bit of time for that team to get its cohesion. It had a very good first year when Stan was coaching the team and went to the Eastern Conference finals and lost in the seventh game to Detroit. So it was just a matter of finding a few more players to round out the roster to get them over the top.

In the offseason, Riley added the likes of Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, James Posey and Jason Williams, who had all been team leaders or All-Stars. O'Neal was hurt in the second game of the season, and the Heat sputtered to an 11-10 start. On Dec. 12, 2005, Van Gundy resigned, citing personal reasons and Riley came down from the front office to coach the team.

Well, we had a lot of very strong-minded veterans. Shaquille without a doubt was one, Zo had a strong voice and Gary Payton had a strong voice. These were all players who were super players and super leaders and we had strong leaders.

We all looked good on paper. It was a process and there were some struggles throughout the year where we got completely blown out by some teams. There were some bleak thoughts about our future as a team.

I'm a noisy guy. I'm a demanding coach and I push players to the brink. I always have and I don't care who they are. So whether you're the best player on the team or the 15th player on the team, once we, as a team, decide this is how we are going to conduct ourselves and these are what the policies and rules are, then we are going to live by them.

There were some explosive moments. It makes a season interesting. I think every now and then you have to create a crisis. I created enough crisis that would create confrontation and out of that confrontation something good would happen. I had a good relationship with Shaq. Even if he and I didn't agree, or Gary Payton and I didn't agree, or Udonis and I didn't agree on something, you know we'd talk it over and we'd settle it and we'd go out on the court and try to win. I think that's what a team is all about.

One of the turning points was when we got blown out in Dallas in the regular season by 20 or 30 points. We got in the locker room in Dallas and we had a heart to heart. It's so ironic that we ended up playing Dallas in the [NBA] Finals and beating them. Pat had a conversation with us, and guys let it all out.

"[Shaq] spent some time running around the locker room naked. If you can imagine somebody seven-foot and 300 pounds running around the locker room naked, bear hugging and body slamming people. If your mind can go there."

Udonis Haslem

We had a narrow window. Maybe three or four years. We had a lot of veteran guys, a lot of older guys, very talented with the two very good young players in Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. And so I thought the sense of urgency I showed and a sense of desperation that we all showed in trying to win the championship, brought us to sometimes those types of conflicts that we'd get over with very quickly.

I do remember that one particular regular-season game [in Dallas] that didn't go very well. We had a team meeting and they had a team meeting, and I think from that point on, I think we finished the season 22-10 or something like that.

We really didn't play our best basketball that year until the playoffs. Probably the most difficult series that we had in the playoffs was our first series against Chicago. I think we beat them in six games. In Game 6 in Chicago, Shaq had 30 points and 20 rebounds and really dominated the game, sent us off to the second round. Next we beat New Jersey four out of five. That sent us on to the Eastern Conference finals where we had a rematch against Detroit. We beat them in six games. Then after dropping two against Dallas [in the series], we swept Dallas.

The Finals were not easy. A lot of the games went right down to the last second, the last couple of shots. May have been one the most exciting Finals that I've ever been part of. Nobody remembers that. Everybody only remembers one thing, that he delivered on his promise. His guarantee. And we had that parade down Biscayne Boulevard, finally.

You know, we were the original Heatles. We just carried ourselves with that swagger, man. It goes a long way when you're on that court. You see that now with the good teams in the league, the Golden States, the Clevelands. They're talented, but they have swagger. You win games out there with your swagger sometimes.

There is a time where everybody's patience runs out. The championship was the major salve on the wound of many years of tough losses and injuries.

Regardless of what the situation is, me and my brother disagree, my stepmom, my dad, my kids we disagree. But that doesn't change the love we have for each other. You're never going to stop loving each other. You're always going to have each other's back. We had a great run together and we'll forever be bonded with that run.

He changed the culture for the Heat. The organization was not a championship team until he got there. Obviously, it took a lot of other players as well to do it. He was the one who started the belief that we could really win a championship, when he brought his talents to South Beach. That's history. That's history for the organization forever, that 2006 championship. He was the catalyst of it. The rest of us did our jobs and our parts. Without him, other guys don't come. You're not making a trade for Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, James Posey and Jason Williams without Shaq being there. He was huge.

I feel great about all the years that I've been here. I really do, even the bad ones. You learn something, but that team of 2006 and that run to the championship is as memorable as any. I think if we all go back and we can all close our eyes and remember what the Finals were like and the playoff run was like. Especially, against Dallas. That's when the theme of White Hot heat and the T-shirts, it looked like the Mormon Tabernacle out there every night. The place was wild, the city was crazy. When we won the championship for that first time, it's no different than what happen with the Cubs. I mean, you think about it, people were so hungry for that kind of experience here in Miami. We got it and he helped deliver it. Without a doubt he helped deliver it. Big time.

In his book "The Winner Within," Riley writes that the "Disease of Me, equals the Defeat of Us," with six warning signs such as "chronic feelings of underappreciation" and "formation of cliques and rivalries." At different times, O'Neal's Heat showed all six.

The Heat received their rings before their home opener against the Chicago Bulls, then lost the game by 42 points. It was the worst first-game loss ever for a defending champion. Fittingly, thanks to the same Bulls, they also became the first defending champions in 50 years to be swept out of the first round the playoffs. As a reporter sitting near the bench during one of the losses, I heard one player or another -- it was tough to know who -- saying, "F--- that. I already got my ring."

Things were falling apart. The following season, Riley didn't re-sign certain players. He traded away others. Wade was hurt most of the season. Ricky Davis was on the team taking a ton of shots. It was a mess. In Shaq's book, "Shaq Uncut," written with Jackie MacMullan, he makes reference to a squabble with Riley. The story goes like this: In February of 2008, Jason Williams was late to practice. Riley subsequently told Williams to get out of the gym. Meanwhile, Shaq told J-Will to come back. When Riley heard him, he allegedly told Shaq that he also could get the hell out of practice.

That apparently led to a heated confrontation between Shaq and Pat. Some expletives were exchanged and both Haslem and Mourning attempted to separate the two icons. Moments later, cooler heads prevailed and the incident was over -- but so was Shaq's tenure in Miami. Shortly thereafter, O'Neal was traded to Phoenix.

That's the kind of relationship I had with those particular players. Sometimes they didn't like what I had to say to them and I didn't like what they had to say to me. I used to have a saying: If you want to tell me to go F myself then you better teach me something about why you said that, because I know if I ever said something like that to you, I would teach you why I said that to you.

That confrontation was overblown. We were in a period of change, going through a subtle change.

It wasn't pretty and sometimes it gets a little ugly. ... You don't let a moment overshadow the greatness that came out of that relationship and what happened in 2006. So you can't let that moment overshadow that. You're grown men and you just move on.

I'm sure if Shaq could go back he would end things a little different. It's just the way it is. Feelings get in the way. People say certain things they may not mean later.

I like it that way. I don't think there was ever a season when I coached that I didn't have some problems with my players and they didn't have some problems with me. If you got a team that is vanilla toast [laughter] all year long, I don't believe you're going to go anywhere.

We argued, but I can guarantee you that there were so many more great times. If it came down to giving a percentage on conflict versus having good times, it was 90/10. Ninety percent good versus 10 percent bad, believe me. A lot of great parties, galas, family festivals, team parties on the road, parties at Shaq's house, a lot of great times, a lot of laughing, good music.

Every now and then just one story will stick out and people will think it was a horrible time. It was not. It was a great time when Shaquille was here.

He's the kind of player that should have his jersey retired in Orlando, L.A. and Miami. I know stuff ends bad, but it is what it is. What a player does for an organization, you have to respect it. With what he did for Miami, I'm glad they're retiring his jersey. I wish I could be there to see it, but just know from afar, I'll be smiling for him.

Once we won the championship in 2006, we could get the albatross off our back. I also believe it opened up the floodgates to the perceptions of other players around the league that we were a championship organization. That there was a great culture down here, a great owner down here, that players were treated well. That may have led to The Big Three [Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh].

We were very fortunate in the transition from Shaquille to The Big Three. We had a couple of years to be able to build and plan for that and we also had a couple of years where Erik Spoelstra could get some real coaching under his belt. Made the playoffs two years in a row. Then we were able to get LeBron, Chris and Dwyane here and we all know what that was like. I do think winning the championship in 2006 was the flashpoint for what happened in the future.

We are a part of each other's legacies. I wouldn't be today where I am without him and I helped to add to his already Hall of Fame career. I'm happy about that.

I'd run into him at various functions and things of that nature. I told him: One day we'd like to retire your jersey here. Even though you were here for three years, it doesn't make any difference to us. His jersey belongs up there with Zo and with Tim, and he was gracious enough to say yes. Even though he started in Orlando, won three titles in L.A., won his fourth title here and finished out his career with other teams, I believe he feels just like we do. I think he feels privileged that we are going to honor him on Dec. 22.

ESPN's Nick Friedell contributed to this story.

Being a “hero” it’s not easy, especially when a lot of people look up to you and follow your steps. One of my biggest heros is Shaquille O’Neal;on my opinion I think he really knows how to play basketball. Shaq is a player of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, which has been World Basketball Championship for 3 consecutive years in a row and Shaquille was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for those three years. Shaquille is my hero because he proof that you can achieve anything you want.

Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal was born on March 6, 1972 in Newark, New Jersey. Shaq attended to Cole High School in San Antonio, Texas then he attended Louisiana State and graduate in 1992, actually he didn’t graduate because he dropped out of college after his junior year to make a career in the NBA. Standing 7 feet in college he was named the 1991 College Player of the Year and an undisputed first team All-America in both 1991 and 1992.

His first year in the NBA he had the top ten scoring, rebounding, blocks and shooting percentage, which I think is really impressive, because when I play basketball the people or friends that I play expect me to be the best because I’m the tall one but it’s hard to because you need to know how to dribble the ball. But the most amazing thing is that he was horrible free-throw shooter but he really practiced hard and for a long time with his dad so he can get better and that’s what makes him my hero, but when he wants to get a lot of points he uses the power slam.

I really like sports, but one of my favorite sports is basketball. I prefer to play it, but if I watch any basketball games I watch the Lakers, especially to see Shaq play. Even thought he has a love for basketball he has the same or more for family and I think that’s really special, especially for me I really care about family too. Shaq is not only an athlete but also an actor and musician. I believe he is one of the best heroes because he does so many things that are hard to keep up with, and he always manages his time to spend time in every single item he does.

In conclusion he's my hero because he tries to get better every day even though he's one of the best. In December 2002, he married his long time girlfriend, Shaunie Nelson, and now he has 5 kids, 3 from his other wife and 2 from his new ex-wife. And he has the time to be NBA basketball player, father and a husband at the same time. I wish I could be like him.

Page created on 7/27/2003 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 7/27/2003 12:00:00 AM

Extra Info

Ranks #3 in the NBA in Points Per Game(27.4) Ranks #1 in the NBA in Field-Goal Percentage(0.564) Ranks #5 in the NBA in Blocks Per Game(2.43) Ranks #12 in the NBA in Field Goals Made(578.0) Ranks #12 in the NBA in Free Throws(377.0) Ranks #5 in the NBA in Free Throw Attempts(604.0) Ranks #13 in the NBA in Offensive Rebounds(205.0) Ranks #13 in the NBA in Total Rebounds(610.0) Ranks #12 in the NBA in Blocks(136.0) Ranks #13 in the NBA in Points(1533.0) Ranks #5 in the NBA in Double-doubles(37.0) Ranks #2 in the NBA in Field Goals Per 48 Minutes(13.07) Ranks #10 in the NBA in Field-Goal Attempts Per 48 Minutes(23.16) Ranks #3 in the NBA in Free Throws Per 48 Minutes(8.53) Ranks #1 in the NBA in Free Throw Attempts Per 48 Minutes(13.66) Ranks #15 in the NBA in Defensive Rebounds Per 48 Minutes(9.2) Ranks #12 in the NBA in Rebounds Per 48 Minutes(13.8) Ranks #13 in the NBA in Blocks Per 48 Minutes(3.08) Ranks #2 in the NBA in Points Per 48 Minutes(34.7) Ranks #7 in the NBA in Total Efficiency Points(1657.0) Ranks #3 in the NBA in Efficiency Ranking(29.59) Ranks #2 in the NBA in Efficiency Ranking Per 48 Minutes(37.48)

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