The Big Aristotle is now the Big AARP. Retiring from basketball, after 19 seasons in the NBA, Shaquille O’Neal leaves a legacy as being one of the greatest centers in the history of basketball.
O’Neal’s retirement announcement, seen live on national television, and held at his house outside Orlando, was typical Shaq – fun and over the top.
For me, Shaq will be remembered as much a pitch man, rapper and larger-than-life character, as he was for being one of the most powerful big men in NBA history.
At 7-feet-one and pushing 300 pounds, O’Neal was the largest human being I’ve ever seen on the court.
The night was February 2, 1992. Since WKYT was the home of the Rick Pitino Show, I flew with the 14th-ranked Wildcats to Baton Rouge for their matchup with unranked LSU.
In typical O’Neal fashion, Shaq dunked on Kentucky early and often. Setting the tone, Shaq led the Tigers to a 74-53 win over the Cats.
O’Neal played five games against the Cats during his LSU career. While his numbers were outstanding, his Tigers were just 2-3 against UK and Rick Pitino. Against the Wildcats, O’Neal averaged 21.8 points per game and 17.8 rebounds per game.
O’Neal’s best performance against the Cats came in 1991, in Baton Rouge, when he scored 33 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a 107-88 loss.
UK’s most memorable win against Shaq came during the 1990 season. The Tigers had three NBA players in the starting five: O’Neal, Chris Jackson and Stanley Roberts.
Pitino countered with the 6-foot-7 Reggie Hanson.
Jackson erupted for 41 points, four short of the Rupp Arena record. O’Neal had 14. Roberts scored 13.
But the Wildcats got double-doubles from Deron Feldhaus and Hanson, leading the Cats to an exciting 100-95 win over LSU. It’s still one of the loudest Rupp Arena crowds that many can remember.
So we say goodbye to the Big Diesel and an extraordinary career. Watching him play in the SEC and Rupp Arena was both terrifying and thrilling. But there’s no denying him his place in basketball history.
I’m sure we’ll hear from Shaq again, soon. And when we do, you can bet he'll be having fun and doing it with a smile on his face.
Those are the highlights. Stay tuned.