Shaquille O’Neal was inducted into the Hall of Fame last week. The former Laker dubbed often as the most dominant player ever finally reached the pinnacle of his sport.
Many years after the fact, Shaq’s role in Lakers’ lore is a given. He formed the backbone of three consecutive championships, joining Kobe Bryant to create a dynasty in Los Angeles.
But Shaq joining the Lakers was never a certainty. His addition to the team is one of the most crucial moves by Lakers’ legend Jerry West. West recently appeared on Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News’ podcast and spoke about that offseason. West used that process and compared it to the Warriors’ signing of Kevin Durant:
“I remember when we signed Shaquille O’Neal. Maybe one of the most angry times of my life when they accused us of cheating. And the commissioner’s office, frankly they didn’t really say anything. But they sure certainly did the background work on it. It was one of the most offensive things I think that anyone has ever said because that’s not something I would participate in, nor would the late Jerry Buss ever participate in something like that. He was certainly not going to that would put us at risk for doing the wrong thing. To me it was just sour grapes, period, by the other people who had their chance.”
West has now been part of some of the most significant offseason moves of all time. He engineered that Lakers’ three-peat through signing O’Neal and trading for rookie Bryant. Now as a consultant for the Warriors, he has helped bring Durant, a top-three player, to a team who won 73 games last year before blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals.
In the above quote, West was specifically addressing accusations of the Warriors’ move being bad for the league. And he has a point. Shaq and Kobe made for a historic era for an iconic franchise. That was great for the league and despite the Warriors seeming like the run-away title winners, Durant joining them makes for must-see TV.
Beyond speaking about signing Shaq, West also talked about the Big Fella’s induction into the Hall of Fame. West spoke with conviction about Shaq as a person, more so than his playing ability:
“Honestly, he’s one of the players that in my tenure with the Lakers, that I felt there’s something to him that drew me to him. I loved him. I loved being around him. I loved the way that he treated people. He’s just a great guy. But I will tell you that he made, I think, the greatest speech – any acceptance speech – that I have ever heard by any NBA player who’s inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was polished, he was funny. And that’s who he is. He’s approachable. I love being around him.”
West’s claim that something about Shaq drew the former to the latter is a particularly interesting one. He had a similar statement about Bryant in a video montage presented by the Warriors at Kobe’s final game in Oracle Arena.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, of course. West is known as one of the greatest talent evaluators ever. Sometimes, those type of people have the recognition to notice future stars instantly. (Of course, Shaq was already a star before he signed with the Lakers. But the point remains.)
Shaq will be presented with a statue outside STAPLES Center at some point this season. When that moment occurs, we should not only remember the big man’s career in Los Angeles. We should also remember the person that brought him to the Lakers and built a historic team around him.
h/t Sam Esfandiari for the link to Kawakami’s podcast.