By Rich Levine
Its pointless to dive into a retrospective on Shaquille ONeals career when were not even sure its over yet.
Of course, today in Orlando, Shaq will take the podium and tell us that it is over; that hes done enough and ready to move on. But we know better. Regardless of what Shaq says this afternoon, no ones ruling out the possibility of this retirement turning into a sabbatical.
First of all, superstars suck at retirement. Jordan, Favre, Magic, Clemens . . . its so hard for these guys to gracefully step out of the spotlight. And no ones ever loved the spotlight more than Shaq.
Second, you know the phone will be ringing. At some point next season, a coach, player or GM will attempt to persuade Shaq out of retirement. Theyll make him feel needed, and Shaq loves to feel needed. On top of that, as he goes about his everyday, somewhat normal life, hell have people at every turn telling him how great he is, that hes still the best and should still be out there. I dont care who it is: fans, cab drivers, waiters, Reality TV producers. Theyll all feed the beast.
Then theres the Achilles. It may never be 100 percent, but there will come a point when it feels much better than it does now. Everything will feel better.
And lastly, theres the fact that Shaqs still a competitive guy. He wants to get even with Kobe. Hes still driven by rings.
Put that all together, and theres no way to logically rule out a comeback.
In fact, if anything, that seems to be the expectation. Maybe we have no choice but to be completely cynical any time an all-time great hangs them up, but for whatever reason (and all of the above reasons), many NBA fans almost consider Shaqs return a foregone conclusion.
But Im not one of them.
Im not ruling out the possibility, because Ill never rule out the possibility, but if you ask me today "Will we ever see Shaq in the NBA again?", I say no.
First and foremost, it comes down to health. Even if he wants to play again, whos to say his body will let him?
Shaqs not retiring because hes lost the desire, or thinks hes ready for new challenges. Thats the type of motivation that usually leads stars to change their mind. In Shaqs case, hes retiring because he cant run up and down the court anymore. He had every intention of playing both years in Boston, but his bodys breaking down. Its already broken down.
The Achilles might have been the injury that broke the seasons back, but it was hardly the only ailment that he dealt with. There was the hip, the knee, the calf, the hamstring, the everything. Even when Shaq was playing (and playing well), he was still in all sorts of pain. Even when he was healthy, he was never healthy. And that was with the help of a round-the-clock training staff, the regimented routine of the NBA schedule, and the very real prospect of another title dangling right in front of him. All that, and Shaq was still a mess.
No offense to the Big Fella (okay, maybe a little) but he had a hard time staying in shape under the Celtics watch. He has a history of not being the most disciplined guy (in terms of fitness) in his non-basketball life. Couldnt you see the honeymoon period lasting for a while on this retirement?
Its the same reason I never thought Rasheed Wallace would return this past season. He and Shaq dont come from the era where guys treat their bodies like temples. They treat their bodies . . . well, a lot like you and I do. And when the phone starts ringing, how long will it take Shaq to get back into playing shape? And can he do it without aggravating one of his laundry list of injuries, and setting off on the same awful journey he just completed?
Listen, we can all agree that, in an ideal world, Shaq should have walked away a few years ago. And if he had, at that point I would have guaranteed an ill-fated comeback. But after this past year, the beating he took, and the harsh realities that he was forced to face, I dont see the physical side coming together for Shaq.
But what about the spotlight? What about the adulation and the screaming fans?
Shaq has screaming fans everywhere he goes. People cheer this guy on while he pumps gas, buys the newspaper, while he does anything. Regardless of whether he ever plays again, the fans will always be there. He'll never be any less than biggest star in any room he's in. His fame won't die with his playing career. It never will.
And hell certainly never leave the spotlight. Hell rap. Hell act. Hell have his own sitcom. Hell take over for Oprah. Hell become the mayor of Newark and the sheriff of Las Vegas. He'll win Dancing with the Stars. Hell start his own line of microwave dinners. He'll do whatever he wants.
But will he ever play basketball again?
I honestly dont think so.
But just in case, I'll keep the retrospective on hold.