If the Miami Heat are retiring Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey, as announced on Tuesday, you know what that means.
One day they’ll be raising LeBron James’ No. 6 to the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena, too. Whether that becomes a warm and fuzzy moment for anybody really doesn’t matter. It has to happen, because Pat Riley is determined to give all-time credit to Miami’s all-time talents. It is a strength of his that puts the game above the gossip.
Now I’m not convinced that Shaq deserves so warm a hug from a franchise that he slimed pretty liberally on his way out the door in 2008.
He only spent 3 ½ seasons in Miami and played for three more teams after that while skidding to the end of his career. Commitment to the Heat’s brand of basketball was never the commitment for Shaq that it was for, say, Alonzo Mourning. Shaq’s commitment has always been to Shaq, the supersized persona, the great entertainer, the brilliant manager of so many marketable assets.
It all starts, however, with Shaq’s transformative impact on the game. He was a load physically and a bull mentally, commanding as much respect in the lane as anyone since Wilt Chamberlain has. In 2006, at the age of 33, Shaq still had enough to average 18.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the long playoff run that earned Miami its first NBA title. Dwyane Wade was the reason the Heat finished the job but they wouldn’t have gotten within realistic range of a championship without Shaq.
Wade’s jersey will eventually be retired, though they really ought to hang about three of his up there, one in white, another in red and another in black. That would reflect his multiplied importance to this organization, and the three NBA titles he has won with the Heat.
Chris Bosh will be honored somewhere down the road, too, just like Zo and Tim Hardaway before him.
Is Shaq still really a part of that royal family? Doesn’t seem to matter to Heat ownership. Michael Jordan’s number is retired at AmericanAirlines and he’s related to this franchise by NBA bloodlines alone.
More than worrying about Shaq, though, it would be nice to pay more attention to Glen Rice and Rony Seikaly, two Heat greats who might be getting higher priorities if they had played for Riley.
Rice averaged 19.3 points per game during his six Miami seasons. That’s No. 4 in franchise history, right behind LeBron, Dwyane and Shaq. What’s more, Rice drove the Heat into the playoffs for the first time, back when he carried a far greater load than any of the Big Three did individually during Miami’s later championship run.
Seikaly, meanwhile, holds a special place in franchise history because he was there from the start. Miami took the Syracuse center in the first round of the Heat’s inaugural draft in 1988 and received in return six seasons of overachievement.
Seikaly averaged a double-double during his time in Miami – 15.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. Nobody, not even Shaq, averaged as many rebounds in a Heat uniform. Seikaly blocked a ton of shots, too, coming in third in franchise history behind Zo and Shaq at 1.4 per game.
Now maybe I’m too liberal with my view of which numbers should be retired, but no more so than Riley is in honoring Shaq.
Maybe we’ll be in agreement one day in retiring Udonis Haslem’s number. It’s not always about stats when it comes to identifying a franchise’s most valued members. Udonis is the soul of the Heat, a gritty force from Miami, of Miami and for Miami.
Shaq, he was just a traveling star, and LeBron a manipulator of rosters and of minds. Both came to Miami to get what they wanted, championship rings, and both left when it was convenient to them.