Shaquille O’Neal had made a lot of promises during his career and a few after he was acquired by the Miami Heat in the summer of 2004.
For the most part, he kept them, including his pledge to bring the Heat a championship.
But one he still has not fulfilled and his former teammate, Udonis Haslem, will not let the Big Fella forget.
“I’m still waiting on that Bentley he promised if we won the championship in 2006,” Haslem said.
Shaq, whose number 32 will be retired by the Heat Thursday during halftime of Miami’s game with the Lakers, said he has that Bentley. … but he’s the one driving it.
“I got traded away before I could sign the bill of sale,” Shaq said Wednesday during a conference call with members of the South Florida media.
“It’s just sitting there at Palm Beach Rolls Royce dealership.”
Shaq’s stay in Miami was brief but spectacular. … from his splashy entrance in an 18-wheeler with a “Diesel Power” banner attached to the side to teaming with Dwyane Wade to lead the Heat to that 2006 title to the ugly breakup during the 2007-08 season of which all parties say there are no hard feelings.
Which is why Shaq will join Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway as the lone former Heat players to have their numbers retired.
“He brought an absolute legitimacy to our franchise,” team President Pat Riley said.
Shaq received the call this summer informing him the Heat would become the third team to retire his number, joining the Lakers (L.A. also will unveil a Shaq statue outside the Staples Center in March) and LSU.
And the man who is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, won four NBA titles and one Olympic Gold Medal (1996), was the 2000 NBA MVP and is a 15-time All-Star and three-time Finals MVP said he never expected to be honored by the Heat.
“It was kind of breath taking,” he said. “I really wasn’t expecting it. I had fun here. I came here to join D-Wade and this organization to win a championship and we did that.”
But for many, including Riley, Shaq was final stamp that legitimatized this franchise and allowed Riley to pursue mega-star free agents like LeBron James and Chris Bosh down the road.
“I thought him coming to Miami, you started to feel the buzz,” said Steve Smith, the NBA analyst whose playing career started in Miami. “Shaq kind of got the ball rolling and was the guy who made Miami, in my opinion, a destination for guys to go and play there.”
The most unusual union during Shaq’s 3 ½ years in Miami in which his averaged 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds was his friendship with Mourning, two players drafted in the same class who were bitter rivals for 12 seasons.
But the two formed a devastating one-two big man punch during Miami’s title run and became so close that Mourning spoke at Shaq’s Hall of Fame induction.
“I developed a brotherly relationship with him,” Mourning said. “He’s a part of the Miami Heat family. He did a lot for the organization.”
But the one player Shaq absolutely had to form a bond with to ensure success was Wade, who was then a rising superstar. When Riley and the Lakers were discussing the deal, the only player Riley deemed untouchable was Wade.
Shaq had a falling out in L.A. with Kobe Bryant after the two led the Lakers to three consecutive titles and Wade would be playing that same sidekick role in Miami.
“The first thing I did when I got there with D-Wade I said the problems that went on with me in L.A. it can never happen here,” he said.
Shaq’s most vivid memory of that title season, which ended with Miami defeating the Mavericks in six games in the Finals, was the Heat preparing to fly to Dallas with a 3-2 lead. He said Riley gave “Hoosier-like” speeches, including an “angry” speech about every player packing just one suit for the trip to Dallas, sending the message that there would be no Game 7.
“When we got (to the airport) he was checking suits,” Shaq said. “Everyone had one suit. I just knew then that we were going to win.”
Erik Spoelstra, in his ninth season as the head coach, was an assistant coach on that team.
“When Shaq arrived it was an absolute feeling like, ‘OK, this is going to be for all the marbles,’” Spoelstra said. “And you felt it immediately. He was larger than life. He had an incredible way of putting a franchise and city on his back where everybody would believe. Role players now look like different players with his influence and that’s the greatness of Hall of Fame players and champions.”