Lakers retire Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 34
By Ben Golliver
The Lakers retired Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 34 jersey during a ceremony at the Staples Center at halftime of Tuesday night’s game against the Mavericks.
O’Neal, 41, spent eight seasons with the Lakers from 1996 to 2004, winning back-to-back-to-back titles from 2000-02. He retired in 2011 after a 19-year NBA career that saw him make 15 All-Star appearances and win four titles, one MVP award and three Finals MVP awards.
The ceremony included a highlight video, a taped message from former teammate Kobe Bryant, a brief statement from Phil Jackson, the jersey unveiling led by Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss and a speech from O’Neal.
“It’s amazing how time flies,” Bryant said during the video message. “I’ve just got to say congratulations to you. The most gifted physical specimen I’ve ever seen play this game. The size and agility. Just natural talent. I just have to say congratulations. What you’ve done for this city, what you’ve meant to this city is absolutely historical, the run we had together. I know you played for other organizations, but you’ll always truly be remembered playing for one and that’s here with the L.A. Lakers. Congratulations, your number has officially been immortalized. You deserve it, man, enjoy it.”
Jackson remembered the “fun, fun, fun” he had with O’Neal before telling a pair of vignettes involving nudity.
“There are some indelible images that we shall never forget,” he remembered. “The day Shaq showed up at practice with nothing but his sneakers on, and late. And when we left Arco Arena after the seventh game against Sacramento in 2002, Shaquille showed them what a full moon really looked like. … I want to thank you for dedication, your leadership and the hard work you put in.”
Buss, daughter of former Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who died in February after battling cancer, asked her Twitter followers for a single word to best describe O’Neal.
“I got words like dominant, unstoppable, diesel, and then there were some comedians who threw in the word Kazaam,” she said. “But my two favorite words are champion and, most of all, Laker. From the bottom of our hearts we thank you for always entertaining us with your talent, sense of humor and, most of all, the winning.”
O’Neal’s speech is transcribed below.
“Can you dig it? Can you dig it? I’d like to dedicate this night to the great Jerry Buss. If I had one wish, my wish would be that he could be here to celebrate this joyous night with us. I know processes like this usually take long periods of time, but it’s because of Jerry Buss and his beautiful family that I’m here this early in my retirement. I’d like to thank my mother. You always taught me how to be kind, compassionate and humble. Thank you very much.
“I’d like to thank my father, Sergeant Philip Harrison. I know you’re watching, sir. You took me and my mom in when I was 2 years old. You taught me how to play the game in Newark, New Jersey. You had a vision that I was going to be big. You wanted me to dominate like Wilt Chamberlain. You wanted me to have a presence and you wanted me to even have a little finesse like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This is to all the little kids out there: If you listen to your father, this is what you can accomplish. Sergeant Harrison, thank you, sir.
“To my six beautiful children, I want to say thank you for putting up with daddy’s weird schedule. Thanks for putting up with my naps and my mood swings. And thank you for loving me after bad games. Thank you very much.
“To the Laker family. First, I’d like to thank the great Jerry West for bringing me here in 1996. Jerry took a gamble on me. I was a flamboyant kid. I had a movie named Kazaam that was out at the time. I had a couple of rap albums that were out at the time. I remember Jerry West bringing me to the Forum and he had me look up at all the greats. He said, Son, if you do things the right way, maybe one day you’ll be up there with the greats. Thank you, Jerry West.
“I’d like to thank the great Phil Jackson for taking us to that next level. Phil, nobody made the level more clear like Phil. Coach, I have a confession to make. You gave me a lot of books to read. I’d like to thank my good friend Cliffs Notes for helping me read those books. I knocked them out in one day. I appreciate it.
“To the Lakers fans, give yourselves a round of applause. You’re the greatest fans on Earth. I can remember certain times not knowing if we were going to win or not, and I looked into the stands and saw the certainty and confidence on your face and I knew we had it in the bag. Thank you very much.
“Since this is L.A., I’d like to thank some of my famous friends. First, I’d like to thank Jack Nicholson. Jack’s been sitting in that same damn seat for years. Telling the referees, ‘You can’t handle the truth.’”
O’Neal then closed by thanking a number of other celebrities, including Adam Sandler and Penny Marshall.