Shaq – Biggest sports star of the modern era?


Today is a sad, sad day. My heart cries out a lonely song. I knew it was coming; hell, we all should have seen it coming: Shaq has retired. I would have Shaqrificed my left leg to give Shaquille O’Neal one last shot at recapturing his old form, but the time was right.

The Shaqtus, The Big Leprechaun, The Big Shamrock, The Big Aristotle, The Big Baryshnikov, Shaq Daddy, Shaq Fu, The Diesel, Superman (the original Superman, Dwight…other than the real Superman). If there is one thing that can not be debated, it’s that no celebrity figure in modern or ancient times (like the ’80s) has had such an uncanny knack for self proclaiming highly entertaining nicknames. (And as a quick aside, Shaq has asked fans for help creating his nickname in retirement. My choices: The Big Early Bird Special or The Big Arthritic)

But Shaq’s late-career knack for using nicknames to stay relevant while the Lego pieces he called body parts kept falling apart and eroding his play was only one small part of why I am convinced Shaq was the biggest sports star of the Millenium Era, which I’d describe as the era of athletes that dominated the sports landscape in the decade before and after the year 2000.

First, I am well aware Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretsky and Dale Earnhardt were competing in part of this era and were bigger stars than Shaq, but the fact is all of them belong to a different time. Jordan’s title-winning Bulls will always be tied to the very end of the NBA’s Golden Age of Magic, Bird, Barkley, Isiah, etc. Gretsky was still The Great One in the ’90s, but his star status was never the same after peaking that first year after leaving Edmonton for L.A. Earnhardt was the last great driver of NASCAR’s Budweiser-Swilling Go-Fuck-Yourself-Because-Mustaches-Are-Awesome Real Redneck era; not the $500 sunglasses, pussy fight, manicure-before-the-race era NASCAR is enjoying today.

Still, the Millenium Era has some impressive stars – Tiger in his prime, Roy Jones Jr., Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Allen Iverson and Shaq’s own personal nemesis Kobe, the Tommy Gunn to Shaq’s aging Rocky.

Roy Jones in his prime was incredible – as dominant and entertaining as Ali, but his terrible attempt at a rap career alone is enough to dim his star under Shaq’s. And for anyone who wants to hate on Shaq’s rap career, don’t forget The Diesel put out a platinum album in ’93, followed that up with a gold album in ’94 and, the ultimate testament, even Biggie gave Shaq props for his rap skills once upon a time. Sorry, Roy.

Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire – juice. Enough said. (Did you know Barry Bonds’ head grew like an inch in circumference from the start of his career to the end? Seriously! Look it up. But it was just the flax seed oil, right, Barry?)

Derek Jeter? Jeet is a mega-star no doubt; anyone who’s ruled the Big Apple for 15 years and banged the crazy out of Mariah Carey is, but the fact is the guy’s just never been that great of a baseball player. I’m sorry, dude is a savvy, smart, classy guy, but Yankees fans are convinced whoever is the face of their franchise gets to take ritual baths in the semen of Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle, therefore making them equal to all former Yankee greats.

Tiger? Tiger owned this title before his little penchant for nailing anything with a pulse and a vagina, pulse optional, went public. You simply cannot be the biggest sports star of an era if you are picking up waitresses at the IHOP and driving them back to their trailer after banging them. That’s not even Class A minor league baseball level. That’s your drunk redneck uncle in Reno shit right there. The man might have won majors at a never before seen pace right through the heart of the Millenium Era, but Tiger’s head and body are so broken down now that even the mystic healing powers of Shaq’s Icy/Hot can’t heal him.

Whereas Shaq’s star has faded steadily over the past four seasons due to age an injury, he’s remained a pretty desired commodity for quality teams with legit title hopes. Contrast that to Iverson, who fell so far from grace so fast that he hopped on a plane thinking he had been banished to the NBA wasteland of Memphis only to walk out of the terminal in Turkey, less than two years removed from scoring over 25 per game with ‘Melo on a solid Denver team. A.I. hasn’t commented on the rumors that he was checking out Osama bin Laden’s crib in Pakistan ahead of his tryout with the Islamabad Goatherders of the Pakistani Basketball Association.

Lastly, Kobe, who has the wonderful distinction of being the face of the NBA for those terrible couple of seasons when he surpassed Shaq as the Lakers top weapon and before everyone could run to Lebron as fast as they could just so they didn’t have to pay attention to Kobe whining anymore. So why is Shaq bigger than Kobe, who the NBA always worked harder to promote than The Diesel? A) Shaq was better than Kobe in each of their primes. Shaq was literally unstoppable and played a one-of-a-kind game that no one has or ever will play again. Kobe is great at rising to the occasion, but there are literally dozens of players in the past 20 years that can pretty much do what Kobe does. B) Shaq was a legitimate cultural phenomenon when he blew up in the mid-90s. Kobe, pretty much, was the pretty boy primadonna that girls thought was cute and Europeans liked because he was a fan of soccer, both of which just annoyed most American fans. C) Shaq never raped anyone (Oh, right, Kobe never did either…). D) Kobe’s one extra title will never erase Shaq dissing him over and over again in impromptu raps.

But enough of those other guys. This is a celebration of Shaq, and he makes his own case for greatest sports star of his era, and one of the tops of all time.

As a player, Shaq tallied: 6 NBA Finals appearances, 4 NBA titles, 3 Finals MVP awards, 1 NBA MVP award (a travesty perpetrated by Karl Malone loving voters), 15 All-Star appearances, 14 All-NBA team awards and 3 NBA All-Defensive Team awards. He ranks 5th all time in NBA scoring, 12th in rebounds and 7th in blocks

As a celebrity, Shaq cut four rap albums (one platinum) and scored a Billboard top 40 hit; starred in his own Super Nintendo video game (Shaq Fu); swam against Michael Phelps, boxed Oscar de la Hoya and took on Olympic beach volleyball gold medalists Misty May and Kerri Walsh in his reality TV show Shaq Vs; starred as Neon in all-time classic sports flick Blue Chips then set a new standard for acting athlete ridiculousness by starring as rapping genie Kazaam and a kid-friendly Robocop in Steel (hate on Kazaam if you will, but no terrible box office bust is cited with more regularity by nostalgic 20-something potheads than Kazaam); and proved he has the best dance moves of any plus-7-footer in history, first by throwing down with the Jabbawokeez in the greatest All-Star game entry in sports history then schooling Justin Bieber in a Shaq Vs dance off.

Seriously, who the hell can top that combined resume? If all this Shaq nostalgia doesn’t have you a little misty to see the big man go, something is just plain wrong with you. We’ll miss you, Big Shuffleboarder.

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