Larger than life: Former Lakers great Shaquille O’Neal stands with his framed retired No. 34 Jersey during a ceremony at Staples Center Tuesday April 2.
Retires jersey No. 34
After nearly nine years, where fans watched a bitter break up between the Lakers and one of the greatest players ever, Shaquille O’Neal returned to Staples Center as a Laker, and he was honored as one of their greatest players ever.
O’Neal’s jersey was placed in the Staples Center’s rafters, along the jerseys of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Jamaal Wilkes, and James Worthy.
To put that group of names into perspective, if that was a roster, and the opposing roster was made up of the other greatest players ever to play in the NBA, the Laker greats would defeat the NBA greats.
O’Neal’s ceremony added to Lakers lore, and it also mended fences, as the blood was really bad between the bad man, Kobe Bryant, and the organization. Each side had a legitimate gripe, and it led to O’Neal demanding to be traded, which recently passed Lakers owner Jerry Buss granted.
The Lakers were a team divided which led to the fan base becoming divided, as many fans took one side or the other. It was even questioned if the Lakers would ever retire O’Neal’s number and put his jersey next to their Hall of Fame players.
Well the bad blood for the most part is gone, and before Buss passed away he expedited the process of honoring O’Neal. All of the jerseys that the Lakers have retired are of players who are in basketball’s Hall of Fame, which O’Neal is not eligible to join yet because he has only been retired for two seasons.
Even though O’Neal is not a Hall of Famer yet, Buss extended the olive branch by honoring O’Neal now, and that was the right thing to do, because without O’Neal the Lakers would have three less championships.
O’Neal was a major driving force in restoring the Lakers as a championship team. After Johnson retired due to the HIV virus in 1991, the Lakers floundered without any great players. For the first time under Buss’ ownership, the Lakers did not have any stars, and there was no hope that they would compete for a championship. The show was over.
The signing of O’Neal coupled with the drafting of Bryant, both happening in 1996, were the building blocks to five championships, and today the Lakers are the most popular team in U.S. sports. The Lakers top the Yankees in popularity.
Without O’Neal, it is hard to say that the Lakers would have won any championships in the post Showtime era. The franchise may have eroded, but instead the Lakers are the premiere franchise in American sports.
O’Neal is one of the greatest to ever play basketball, and now his name is right where it belongs, right next to the greatest Lakers ever.