Today is Shaq day.
The Heat will retire Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey in a special halftime ceremony during their matchup with the Lakers at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday night.
We spoke to former Heat head coach and assistant coach Ron Rothstein about the Hall of Fame center for the latest installment of our question and answer segment we will bring you throughout the season.
Rothstein was a Heat assistant coach during O’Neal’s time in Miami from 2004-08.
Enjoy the Q&A and Shaq stories …
Q: How much did Shaq mean to the Heat organization?
Ron: “There were some down years prior to acquiring Shaq. He brought, obviously, a guy who won championships, a guy who was still a pretty dominant player. You get a guy like that in your locker room or a guy like that on the floor, it makes everybody better. It really does. And it gives everybody a lot more confidence. His presence was definitely a game-changer and it really helped Dwyane [Wade]. It’s interesting because people would say, ‘Well, Shaq is in the post and it’s going to clog the middle.’ That was the furthest thing from the truth because you couldn’t take a body off Shaq. So when Dwyane went to the basket, big guys weren’t coming to him so it actually made it easier for him at times. The fallacy that Shaq was going to clog up the middle and there would be nowhere to go was ridiculous.
“I think if Dwyane doesn’t get hurt in 2005 then we make the Finals that year, and then the next year we won it. So it was a pretty good two-year run. Then the next year, we had some serious injuries. But those two years were pretty significant.”
Q: How much did Shaq’s business knowledge help Dwyane Wade’s growth off the court early in his NBA career?
Ron: “Shaq was always talking business. He came up to me one time, I’m not going to say where, but it was during the playoffs in a very big game on the road and it was maybe five minutes before we were going to start our pregame meeting and then we were going out to warmup, so maybe it was a half hour before tip-off. I happened to be sitting next to him in the locker room because it was a real small locker room. He turns to me and he says, ‘I never should have turned that deal down.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘It was the biggest mistake of my life.’ I’m not going to mention the company, but I asked him why. And I remember his answer was so off the wall, so incongruous. We’re getting ready to play a huge game and just out of the clear blue sky he started talking to me about a business deal that he rejected. He said it was the biggest mistake of his life.
“And in regard to talking to Dwyane and schooling him on how he handled his [business] and what happened with him, I think it was probably a great help to Dwyane.”
Q: After how the Lakers situation played out with Shaq and Kobe Bryant, were you surprised to see Shaq take Dwyane Wade under his wing?
Ron: “No. Because you know what, guys have habits. I’ve seen veteran guys do that. Some guys need to do that, they have a need to want to do that and get a young guy. You can school him, you can help him or you can poison him. Some guys like poisoning guys. No, that wasn’t him. But that didn’t surprise me at all.”
Q: What was it like to coach Shaq?
Ron: “The thing that I found, especially in the third year that I replaced Pat for 22 games, and Shaq was hurt for part of that. We had a couple of sit-down meetings and I was shocked at how, at times, insecure he was. He was like a big baby. He needed some positive reinforcement. He needed to be hugged without physically hugging. He had a kid’s spirit. I used to joke with his ex-wife Shaunie and say, ‘How are all your children doing?’ And she would just start laughing. He was just a big kid with an enormous impact on the game.”
Q: Did anything surprise you about Shaq?
Ron: “The fact that at times he was so insecure. That surprised me. That really surprised me. The other thing is that he hated to be dunked on. He really dreaded it. That’s why guys would come to the basket and he would just hammer them. If he couldn’t block their shot, some guys he would just hammer.”
Q: As far as Shaq’s insecurities, what did they have to do with?
Ron: “He was concerned about certain things. What were his people saying? What phone calls he’s getting? I’m saying to myself, ‘You’re Shaq.’ That was a little bit surprising.”
Q: What do you say to the people who argue that the Heat shouldn’t retire Shaq’s number because he was in Miami for such a short time?
Ron: “Well, look you can make an argument. But what you can’t argue is the impact he had on us and the fact that if he wasn’t here, we don’t win the first championship. I don’t see it happening.”
Q: Do you think Shaq’s impact in that 2006 Finals is overlooked because of Dwyane’s great performance?
Ron: “He wasn’t as dominant anymore. But he was still good enough that you had to account for him. People had to scheme and figure out how they were going to account for him. When you get a player that needs to be accounted for, it’s just going to make the other guys better.”
Q: After the messy ending, are you happy to see the Heat retiring Shaq’s number?
Ron: “I think so. I think that’s right. He had an enormous impact on us. Anybody who says he didn’t is dreaming. The reality was he was Shaq and there hasn’t been another one. He’s special.”