NBA fans will tell you firsthand that they don't always see Shaquille O'Neal emotional or involved in serious conversations. Whether that's because he often argues with Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA or gives out some head-scratching takes every now and then, O'Neal isn't really the type to give random serious speeches out of the blue.
But O'Neal was different on Sunday night during the All-Star Weekend; he was very reflective. The four-time champion delivered an emotional and powerful tribute moments after he was officially appointed as part of the NBA's 75th-anniversary team.
O'Neal thanked all the NBA greats for paving the way for him and gave specific shoutouts to Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Jerry West, Dell Brown, Dave Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and others. According to O'Neal, he wouldn't be the player he was if it weren't for these players who impacted his life both in and outside the basketball court.
"I wanted to be like all these guys, and I'm sitting there in the photoshoot, and I'm like Oh My God, there's DR. J, there's Magic. There's the great Charles Barkley. Charles taught me how to be ferocious. Not give a damn what nobody say. Throw the bones, knock some teeth out. When I saw Charles do this, I was like, okay, it's okay to be like this," O'Neal said.
"Jerry West helped me become that [player]. When I first came to L.A., I'll admit I was all on my gold chain wanting to do movies, rap albums and he did one thing. He sat me down, the lights went down in the Forum and he said one thing: "Mr. O'Neal, you can be up there with all the greats, or you can be a bust." So because Jerry West told me that I said, you know what, I got big shoes to fill."
True enough, O'Neal did fill those big shoes as he's known as one of if not the most dominant player ever to play the game. In addition to his championships, Shaq appeared in 15 All-Star games, has one MVP award, and ranks 10th in the NBA's all-time scoring list (28,596 points).
Besides his many prestigious individual accolades, O'Neal also changed the game. Not only did he carry the torch as the most dominant big man during his prime years, but he also owned the paint and played a particular style of physical basketball that a lot of prominent centers and power forwards in today's game, like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, embody.
Needless to say, the beautiful anecdote from O'Neal's speech was that he credited all the legends that helped him hone his craft. And the best part? He's doing the exact same thing for today's generation.