Shaquille O'Neal

Center, #34


Shaquille O'Neal is a bigger-than-life, charming, outspoken figure, whose 7-foot-1, 325-pound frame and incredible agility have made him one of the most dominant centers to have played the game.

He's always been superhumanly large. When he was 5 years old, his mother had to carry around his birth certificate to prove to bus drivers that he wasn't 8 or 9. As an adult, he nicknamed himself Superman, and tattooed an "S" on his left bicep. He also claims he has an evil twin "Elliuqahs Laeno," his name spelled backward. That alter-ego likes to party and be bad, though, so he claimed he killed him off.

He's one of the largest men to have played in the NBA -- he wears custom-made size 22 basketball shoes and his cars have their interiors stripped and their seats moved back 10 inches. Defenders have had such a hard time stopping him that they have been known to use a tactic called "Hack-A-Shaq" to prevent him from scoring.

If O'Neal is Superman, however, free throws are his kryptonite. He's taken more than 11,000 free throws during his 19-year NBA career and has converted fewer than 53% of them.

O'Neal became a Laker in 1996, after averaging 27.2 points and 12.5 rebounds in four seasons with Orlando. He immediately helped breathe life into a Lakers franchise that had foundered a bit since the "Showtime" era. Even though he missed 31 games due to a knee injury during the 1996-97 season, he helped lead the team to a 56-26 record, its best since 1990-91. The following season, in 1997-98, the Lakers had their best start in franchise history (11-0) and earned a berth in the Western Conference finals.

Paired with Kobe Bryant and led by Coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers became a dynasty in 1999-2000, amassing a 67-15 record, one of the best in league history. They won an NBA championship that season for the first time since 1988, and O'Neal became one of three players in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, MVP of the All-Star game and MVP of the NBA Finals.

The Lakers three-peated over the next two years, and O'Neal became the second player in NBA history -- along with Michael Jordan -- to be named Finals MVP three consecutive seasons. After winning his final title with the team in 2002, he poured fuel on the Lakers-Kings rivalry during the Lakers victory parade by saying, "Sacramento will never be the capital of California. Los Angeles is the new capital of California."

The team's great success during O'Neal's eight years as a Laker, however, was marred by intersquad bickering between him and Bryant. O'Neal called Bryant selfish and Bryant questioned O'Neal's work ethic and leadership ability. They battled for control over the team's offense and locker room, and their verbal jousts eventually led to the team's dismantling. In a move that was viewed as an attempt to placate Bryant, O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat on July 14, 2004.

He won his fourth championship in Miami in 2006, and has since played for Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston. A 15-time All-Star, he's the seventh leading scorer in NBA history (28,434), 13th leading rebounder (13,024), eighth all-time in blocked shots (2,702), and the highest ranked player in field-goal percentage (.582).

Perhaps even more impressive than his stats is his personality. His nicknames include: The Big Aristotle, Hobo Master, The Diesel, Wilt Chamberneezy, Dr. Shaq and the Big Shamrock. He's beloved for his sense of humor and random acts of hilarity. His Twitter bio reads "Very quotatious, I perform random acts of Shaqness," and he recently told his followers that he was going to Harvard Square, and allowed his admirers to take photos of him for nearly an hour while he posed as a statue.

While with the Lakers, he fulfilled a promise to his mother and completed his bachelor's degree in 2000. Three years later, he earned his MBA online through the University of Phoenix and became an honorary U.S. deputy marshal. He's also released several rap albums, appeared in movies and starred in reality television shows.

On the advice of Bill Russell, O'Neal made peace with Bryant in 2006, and the two hugged before the Miami Heat-Lakers game in January. Their feud has dissipated into a light-hearted, jocular relationship. After Bryant won his fifth championship in 2010 with the Lakers, he said in front of a national television audience that he now had more rings than O'Neal. Soon after, O'Neal signed with the Lakers franchise's greatest rival, the Boston Celtics.

He retired after an injury-plagued 2010-11 season, and soon after the Lakers said they will retire Shaq's number at a date to be determined.

— Melissa Rohlin
June 6, 2011