Shaq retired - here's what I have to say -
I started watching NBA basketball during the 2000 playoffs when Shaq and Kobe won the championship over Reggie Miller and the Pacers. I was an instant fan, but I was definitely spoiled. I barely knew the players besides Kobe and Shaq let alone any other players in the league. I had no idea that Shaq was one of the greatest centers of all time.
The next season I watched every Laker game. I loved Kobe but I also loved Shaq. He was a true go to guy that gave you a good look every possession. They'd post him up and he'd either back his man down or do a hop step leaner toward the basket and because he was so huge, it was pretty much a layup from 6 feet out. Then the playoffs came and I was spoiled even more. The Lakers swept every opponent to get to the Finals. It was ridiculous. I almost felt it was unfair. Shaq was too big for anyone and Kobe had all the energy in the world to put away the opposition in the fourth quarter. I was so spoiled that I actually was rooting for the 76ers in the finals. Dikembe Mutombo turned out to be my favorite player of all time (still is), and I was happy that they won game 1 and upset when the Lakers won the next 4! Shaq won the Finals MVP again, and during the Laker parade and celebration, I was happy again that the Lakers won. Shaq rapped, Madsen danced, the crowd cheers 3 peat.
Mutombo was the defensive player of the year and he and Matt Geiger were simply too small for Shaq. I was spoiled. Any time we needed a bucket, post up Shaq, hook shot, drop step, two handed power dunk, 2 points. A three peat was no question. No one can stop Shaq AND we have Kobe Bryant. The Lakers will never lose, and I am 2/2 in my NBA season watching on championships.
2001-2002 Season rolls around and the Lakers get right back to work, they get to the playoffs where have the great Robert Horry win game 3 of the Portland series to sweep them, and then the fabled Sacramento series. Oh my GOD- Game 4 when the Lakers were down 1-2 with the risk of going down 1-3. Down by 2 with 10 or so seconds, Kobe drives the basket, misses, Shaq gets the rebound, misses, Divac bats the ball out to Robert Horry who drains the 3. But this post isn't about the Lakers, it's about Shaq.
We won the championship over the Nets who didn't have a center that came close to Samaki Walker let along Shaq. During the championship parade and speech - Shaq didn't care about the Nets. No Laker fan did. We still cared about and hated the Kings. Shaq was right there with us - "SACRAMENTO is not the capital of the California! LOS ANGELES IS THE CAPITAL OF CALIFORNIA!" To which everyone cheered.
Because Shaq was not just the most dominant player of all time, he was the most charismatic player of all time. He didn't just play for Los Angeles, he WAS Los Angeles. After every emphatic dunk, he looked to the crowd which was cheering, he looked at his behemoth palm that had just massacred a defender, his eyes widened, his lion like roar resounding in the ears of the opposing team, he was a rockstar.
And I was spoiled.
The next year we didn't win the championship. We lost to the Spurs. We re-upped with Gary Payton and Karl Malone, and lost in the Finals to Detroit. And then Shaq left.
And we didn't make the playoffs in 04-05.
My how the mighty have fallen when you go from Shaq as your starting center to Chris Mihm and Brian Grant. Why aren't these guys dunking? Why aren't they bull dozing their way toward the basket? Why why WHY are they taking 15 foot jumpers!? WHY ARE WE NOT IN THE PLAYOFFS!? I missed the go-to-shaq-we-need-points plays. I missed the light hearted FUN basketball. Because as much as I love love LOVE Kobe Bryant, he's just not that fun. That's not to say that's a bad thing, it's just who he is.
Take for example the 09 Orlando Magic Finals. We win the championship and have a parade and celebration. The whole team takes turns with little speeches culminated by Kobe's speech where he ends with having the team put their hands together and including the crowd on their ritual, they yell RING after counting to 3. And that was it. The celebration over, Laker fans go home. It was nice, but it was no where near as FUN as Shaq rapping and the whole team dancing.
(Fast forward to 8:30)
I'm not jumping ship either. I was on, and still am on Kobe's side of the whole Shaq v. Kobe fiasco. But I did and still do miss the amazingness and hilarity of Shaq's game in the purple and gold. Especially after Pau Gasol's sorry performance this May.