By Alex Kennedy
During halftime of the 2022 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland, the NBA honored the legends who are part of 75th-anniversary team.
Following that ceremony, Shaquille O’Neal gave an emotional speech thanking the individuals who helped him become one of the greatest centers in NBA history. He thanked a number of all-time greats including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Jerry West and Kobe Bryant.
Here’s a transcription of Shaq’s moving speech (or you can watch the video below):
“My speech is going to be a little lengthy,” O’Neal said. “I’d like to thank Sgt. Phillip Arthur Harrison. He’s the guy who told me that one day, I would be here. I was a medium-level, high-level juvenile delinquent. I was always told that I would never, ever, ever make it. He convinced me to do well in school — doing well in school for me was all Cs. I get all Cs and he takes me to Madison Square Garden, and [I see] Dr. J go baseline and throw it down and the crowd goes crazy. I looked at him and said, ‘Sir, this is what I want to be when I grow up.’ His exact words were, ‘If you listen to me, I’ll make you one of the most dominant big men ever.’ And he named Bill Russell and he named Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and he named Wilt Chamberlain. And I never knew those names. I knew Dr. J because prior to that, there was a movie called ‘The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh’ and I watched that. I got in trouble in high school for trying to be like Dr. J. and my father said, ‘No, I need you to be a big man.’
“So here comes another big man, and he’s 6-foot-9, flashy, hip-hop and has style: Magic Johnson. I wanted to be like Magic Johnson. I want to thank another guy: Mitch Riles. We played in Germany together [as kids] and he was a white guy; he loved [Larry] Bird, I loved Magic, and we used to have seven-game series every day. We used to fight. I’d also like to thank Floyd McMerchy because when I didn’t make the varsity team, he helped me. Then, Dale Brown comes along and everyone knows that story, but when I get to San Antonio, that’s the guy [who recruited me to LSU]. I’m the best big man in the city and then there’s another guy, David Robinson, who comes to town and I go watch him play and I say, ‘Oh my God, I’m not that good!’ In high school, you know, [we’re] 36-0 and I’m averaging 40 and 22, but I see David Robinson and I go, ‘Oh my God, I’m not that good.’ I wanted to be like Patrick Ewing.
“I wanted to be like all of these guys, and I’m sitting there in the [75th anniversary] photoshoot like, ‘Oh my God, there’s Dr. J! There’s Magic! There’s the great Charles Barkley!’ Charles taught me how to be ferocious and not give a damn what anybody said. Throw them bows, knock some teeth out! Once I saw Charles do that, I said, ‘Okay… it’s okay to be like this.’ Jerry West helped me become that. When I first came to LA, I’ll admit: I was all about my gold chains, I wanted to do movies, I wanted to do rap albums. He did one thing: He sat me down and the lights went off in The Forum and he said, ‘Mr. O’Neal, when this is all said and done, you can be up there, and [the jerseys of] all of the greats [lit up]. Or, you could be a bust.’ Because Jerry West told me that, I was like, ‘You know what? I have big shoes to fill.’
“Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — I love the man to death, one of the best big men ever. I’m glad he didn’t baby me; I’m glad he told me like it was. I read an article one day that still hurts my heart to this day: I’m averaging 29 and I’m doing my thing in LA, and they say, ‘Hey, Shaq’s one of the greatest big men.’ And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says, ‘How great is he? He hasn’t won a championship yet.’ Instead of crying and complaining, [I got better]. All of those guys made me persevere and helped me get to this point. I’d like to thank the great Dr. Lucille O’Neal…
“I don’t really get emotional, but it was a really emotional moment because [there are] all of these guys that are greater than me, and I can’t believe I’m sitting next to them. Even when I look at myself play, I was not as good as Hakeem [Olajuwon]. I was not even as good as Chief (Robert Parish). I was not even as good as Bob McAdoo. But for the people who want to say, ‘Shaquille O’Neal, you’re great,’ I didn’t do it by myself. I did it with all of these guys, all of my teammates — Dennis Scott, Penny Hardaway… What really saddens me about today is that my father couldn’t be there, my sister couldn’t be there and my main man Kobe Bryant couldn’t be there. That, like, really… Because a lot of people helped me get there, but those three [were big] — my dad pushing me, my little sister covering for me, and me and Kobe going back-and-forth and making each other great. It was a great moment for me and a great honor, and if I missed you in the thank you’s, I apologize… But I want to thank everyone who helped me become who I am. I love you guys and I appreciate you very much.”
— TurnerSportsPR (@TurnerSportsPR) February 21, 2022
After Shaq finished, Ernie Johnson summed up what everyone was thinking: “Shaq, that’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard.”
O’Neal finished his career with four NBA championships, three Finals MVP awards, an NBA MVP award, 15 All-Star selections, 13 All-NBA selections, a Rookie of the Year award and two scoring titles. The Hall-of-Famer racked up 28,596 points (10th-most in NBA history), 13,099 rebounds (16th-most) and 2,732 blocks (9th-most) throughout his legendary career.
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