The news caught Shaquille O’Neal by surprise.
“Seriously?” O’Neal said with a hint of both excitement and disbelief.
The news sounded good to O’Neal’s ears. But he sounded initially reluctant toward listening.
“You’re playing,” O’Neal said.
But late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel pleaded for O’Neal to hear him out.
“Seriously, I swear to God,” Kimmel said. “This is not a prank.”
Kimmel had just revealed to O’Neal on Wednesday night that the Lakers will unveil a statue of him outside of Staples Center. Kimmel showed an artist rendering that shows O’Neal offering one of his powerful dunks. Kimmel reported the Lakers told him to deliver the news. The Lakers then confirmed this will happen at some point during the 2016-17 season.
“We look forward to having Shaq join the other legends who have been honored with statues at STAPLES Center,” Lakers president Jeanie Buss in a statement. “He is a giant not only in size, but also in stature and in what he accomplished as a Laker. Shaq literally broke the ground for the site, and was hugely responsible for not only getting STAPLES Center built, but for making it one of the most successful and famous arenas in the world. It’s an honor that is well deserved.”
Can you dig it?
O’Neal certainly will.
He will become the fourth Laker luminary to have his statue unveiled, which has also included former guard Magic Johnson, the late broadcaster Chick Hearn, former guard and executive Jerry West and former center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. On April 2013, O’Neal became the ninth Laker to have to have his jersey retired, including Johnson (No. 32), Abdul-Jabbar (33), West (44), Elgin Baylor (22), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Gail Goodrich (25), James Worthy (42) and Jamaal Wilkes (52).
The Lakers normally have retired a players’ jersey after they become inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But O’Neal revealed the Lakers pushed up the timeline in hopes that the ceremony happened before the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss passed away. He died on Feb. 18, 2013 at the age 80 after a long bout with cancer. O’Neal’s jersey was retired on April 1, 2013.
O’Neal recently became eligible as a first-ballot candidate to become inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016, with festivities taking place from Sept 8-10. O’Neal is strongly expected to receive enough consideration after ending his 20-year NBA career with four NBA championships, a fifth-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list (29,596), three Finals MVPS, one regular season MVP and 15 All-Star appearances.
O’Neal won three of his four NBA championships with the Lakers, averaging 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in eight seasons.
When he formally retired in May 2011, capping a 19-year career that included stops with the Orlando Magic (1992-96), Lakers (1996-2004), Miami Heat (2004-08), Phoenix Suns (2007-09), Cleveland Cavaliers (2009-10) and Boston Celtics (2010-11).
O’Neal shared that he will likely have Johnson, former Sixers legend Julius Irving and former LSU coach Dale Brown introduce him. O’Neal also conceded, “I’ll probably go in as a Laker.”