Shaquille O’Neal’s run with the Heat was brief, but spectacular.
In recognition of what O’Neal accomplished from 2004 through ‘08, the team will retire his No. 32 jersey at the beginning of next season. O’Neal will join Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning as the only Miami players to have their number retired.
“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform,” team president Pat Riley said in a statement. “He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship. Retiring his number in the rafters, along with Heat greats Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is something we are very proud of.”
O’Neal teamed with Dwyane Wade to lead Miami to the 2005-06 championship, the first in franchise history, and remains among its all-time leaders in several categories. He is first in field-goal percentage at 59.6 and third in scoring average at 19.6 points per game.
The end was ugly in Miami, though the sides obviously have worked that out given the decision to honor O’Neal permanently by hanging his number in the rafters.
O’Neal wanted out and got his wish when the Heat dealt him to Phoenix during the 2007-08 season. After he left he blasted the organization.
“I love playing for this coach and I love playing with these guys,” he said of the Suns, as quoted in the Boston Globe. “We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I’m actually on a team again.”
He continued by going after Riley, “I guess when you have a lot of power, you can do what you want. Me? If I ever came into that kind of power, I think I’d be willing to admit it if I messed up… Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been the scapegoat when things went wrong. When I was in the classroom and somebody threw something at the teacher, she’d turn around and look at me first. She’d give me that look like, ‘Shaq, you’re a clown, it’s got to be you.’
“I understand being the scapegoat comes with being the superstar. When it all goes right, you get the credit. And when it doesn’t . . . I guess this is what you get. I can accept being the scapegoat when we do things my way and they don’t work out. But when you have no control how things are handled, and you are still the scapegoat, I don’t go for that.”
He also ripped the Heat’s medical staff.
Riley fired back shortly afterward.
“It’s sad that he says those things,” Riley said. “We shared so much here, together, for three years, good and bad, three and a half years. I just think it’s sad that he’s got to do that… He didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to play for (a team that was losing). He’s 35 years old and he wanted to go to a contender. And we sent him there. We sent him to Utopia and we’re here left with the carnage. And I don’t know why he’s not happy.”
Sometime in the last eight years, there must have been reconciliation between O’Neal and Riley, and now O’Neal will receive the ultimate honor a team can give.