21 Years In The Life Of Shaquille O'Neal

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Photo: AP

Since joining the Orlando Magic in 1992, Shaquille O’Neal has occupied a special place in the heart of American sports fans.Part athlete, part actor, part wordsmith, and all entertainer, Shaq approached the game with a youthful energy that made him beloved by the common fan, but derided by the diehards.

As the NBA lockout drags on, Shaq’s next career — TNT NBA analyst — remains on standby. 

So while you wait for the Big Aristotle to make his TV debut, take a look back at his 21 years on the hardwood.

Shaq rose to prominence as a high school superstar in Texas in the late 80s

Shaq began attending Robert G. Cole High School in San Antonio, Texas in 1989 after his father was transferred to a local U.S. Army post from Germany.

He set a state record for rebounds in a season his junior year that still stands today. During his senior year, Shaq led Cole to a Texas state championship and earned himself a scholarship to LSU.

He spurned bigger schools and chose to attend college at LSU

In his two seasons at LSU, Shaq was one of the most dominant players in college basketball. He was an All-American both years, and was selected as AP Player of the Year in 1991.

He left LSU to join the NBA in 1992, but eventually returned to Baton Rogue and earned a B.A. in General Studies in 2000.

He was drafted first-overall in 1992 by the Orlando Magic

He was taken one spot ahead of future teammate Alonzo Mourning.

In his rookie 1992-1993 season, Shaq was showered with accolades: his average of 23 points and 14 rebounds per game made him the first rookie All-Star since Michael Jordan and the NBA Rookie of the Year.

Shaq dominated the NBA by his second year, when he made it all the way to the Finals

After the 1993 season, dynamic guard Penny Hardaway joined the Magic and Orlando made its first playoffs in franchise history.

In the following year, Shaq averaged 29.3 points per game and led the Magic all the way to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Hakeem Olajuwon and the defending champion Rockets.

Shaq went Hollywood after achieving on-court fame

After missing a significant part of the 1995-1996 season due to injury and falling to Jordan's Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, Shaq bolted Orlando for Hollywood.

He played a genie in the now-infamous film Kazaam.

He then signed a monster $120 million contract with the LA Lakers, officially becoming a superstar

Shaq posted solid numbers in the 1996-1997 season, but missed 30 games due to injury, something that would plague him for the last third of his career.

In 1997-1998 the Lakers won 61 games, but were unable to defeat the Jazz for the second year in a row. Luckily, help was on the way in the form of teen phenom Kobe Bryant.

Despite their ridiculous talent, the Lakers struggled initially

The a lockout-shortened 1999 season, the Lakers revamped roster was unable to gel over the 50-game season.

They still made the playoffs, but lost to the eventual NBA-champion San Antonio Spurs.

In 2000, the Lakers dynasty was born. They won the NBA Title in dominant fashion

With Phil Jackson at the helm and Kobe Bryant coming into his prime, Shaq had the best season of his career in 2000, dominating the league to the tune of 30 points and 13 rebounds per game en route to his first NBA MVP award.

Shaq led the Lakers to the NBA championship and was named Finals MVP.

Then followed it up with another title in 2001. Here he is with GWB

In 2001 the Lakers bloomed into a full-fledged dynasty, dominating Allen Iverson and the Sixers in the Finals to win their second straight title.

As he continued to dominate, the league began employing the 'hack-a-Shaq' strategy to force the big man to the line. Shaq was a career 53% free throw shooter.

The next year, Shaq found himself at the centre of an intense in-state rivalry. His Lakers eventually passed and won their third-straight championship

In 2002 the California rivalry between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings reached a fever pitch in a tense, seven-game Western Conference Finals series.

Throughout the series Shaq criticised Kings' centre Vlade Divac for flopping, and continually referred to Vlade as 'she' in press conferences.

The Lakers won the series, and went on the win their third-straight NBA title.

The L.A. honeymoon came to an end in the fall of 2002, when Shaq missed the first part of the season after undergoing a toe surgery that he put off all summer

In 2002-2003, The Lakers missed their first Finals since 1999, prompting owner Jerry Buss to revamp the roster.

The next year, amid widely reported discontent between Shaq and Kobe, the Lakers again failed to win a title. After the season, the Lakers decided to trade Shaq and his sizable contract to Miami, creating the salary cap room necessary to lock Kobe into a long-term deal.

Shaq flourished on South Beach, but wasn't able to reach the Finals in his first season there

In his first season on South Beach, Shaq was back to his old ways. He had a new sidekick in Dwyane Wade, and reverted to his MVP-calibre form.

But again he was bounced out of the playoffs by the Detroit Pistons, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Shaq was too old and too slow by 2006, but he was able to scratch out one last NBA title with Dwyane Wade

Despite posting career lows in points and rebounds, Shaq won his fourth NBA title in a controversial Finals victory versus Dallas.

But the injuries were beginning to pile up for Shaq, as he missed 23 regular season games. 2005-2006 was the last season the ageing centre would average 20 points per game.

After playing in only 40 games in 2006-2007 and failing to make the All-Star team for the first time in his career in 2007-2008, the league-worst Heat traded Shaq to the Phoenix Suns in winter of 2008.

There, Shaq found himself once again competing for a championship with point guard Steve Nash.

In 2010, he decided to make a run at an NBA title with LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers

After missing the playoffs in 2008-2009, the Suns decided to sell high on Shaq and traded him to the championship-starved Cleveland Cavaliers.

In Cleveland, Shaq again aligned himself with a young superstar (this time Lebron) and vowed to 'win a ring for the king,' but he ultimately wasn't healthy enough to play effective minutes, and the Cavs collapsed against the Celtics in the playoffs.

Both Shaq and Lebron would leave Ohio that summer.

In June, Shaq called it a career afer an insanely entertaining career

After yet another injury-plagued year in 2010-2011, Shaq decided to call it quits in June. Although he was a dominant force on the basketball court -- perhaps the greatest physical specimen the league has ever seen -- he will be remembered for his big personality and perpetual goofiness.

I would say he will be missed, but there is little doubt that he'll be on our television screens just as much in the next decade as he was in the last, or perhaps more.

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