Shaq's personality now dwarfs his game
The circus that is Shaquille O'Neal officially has arrived.
And circus it is, make no mistake about that.
Or who else do you know who has been known to show up in Superman underwear?
You can call him Big Diesel.
You can call him Big Aristotle.
You can call him Big Shactus.
You can call him Shaq Fu, which he has called himself in the past.
Or you can call him Osama bin Shaq, which is what he called himself after "terrorizing" Keith Van Horn in the 2002 playoffs.
Or maybe Big Deporter, which he called himself a few years back after he claimed he humiliated two foreign players so badly that they left the NBA and went back overseas.
You can call him anything you want.
But there is no one quite like Shaq, this future Hall-of-Famer, complete with four championship rings and more money than some Third World countries, now in the twilight of his great career. No one quite like Shaq, who has had one of the greatest careers in the game's history.
Let's start with the fact that he is big.
Not NBA big.
Big man in the circus big.
Like 7-foot-1, 325-pounds big. Or more.
With a personality to match.
Let's also start with the premise that on a Boston Celtics roster full of star power, the so-called Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, those three collectively don't match the celebrity of Shaq. Not even close.
His debut rap album sold more than three million copies. He's been in three movies. He does commercials. He never met an open microphone he didn't like. Ask him a question and you never now what's going to come out of his mouth.
Then again, what do you expect from someone who has been known to refer to himself as Superman, complete with a tattoo to prove it.
With his own special Kryptonite, his inability to shoot free throws.
But why quibble?
Here he is in the twilight of his career, no longer the dominant player he was now that he's 38. He no longer expects the ball all the time, no longer expects things to revolve around him.
"That part of my game is over," he said.
So there he was Monday at Celtics media day in his white uniform with number 36 on it.
He was in one corner of the Celtics' practice facility, penned in by a glut of cameras and reporters, the questions flying at him like basketballs at the basket in a pregame warmup.
He already had done a succession of photo shoots — holding a ball, bouncing a ball, cradling a ball on his shoulder, smiling with a ball, glowering with a ball. Shaq anyway you want him. Now he was answering questions in a soft voice on the eve of his 19th season in the NBA,
He was asked his reaction to Kobe Bryant's statement last spring after Kobe and his Lakers won his fifth NBA title, and Kobe had said, "One more than Shaq," a comment on their rivalry that long ago turned personal.
"My whole career, I have been a measuring stick for excellence," he said. "I'm glad to see I'm relevant."
But a true force?
He is here as both insurance if Kendrick Perkins doesn't return in time from knee surgery, and as another physical presence off the bench. In short, he is a role player, for the Shaq of legend is long gone on the court, existing only in memory and in old highlight films.
The contemporary Shaq has no more mobility, no longer runs very well, and never had a plethora of skills, even back when he was the most physical presence in the game. What he is for the Celtics is another little piece of this star-studded puzzle.
Still, he was one of the main attractions on this day.
Then again, Shaq always leaves a big footprint.
And what did he do for the summer, what did he do to get ready for his new team?
"Stay out of trouble and lay off the burgers," he said.
He paused a beat.
"Burgers and fried chicken."
He paused another beat.
"And macaroni and cornbread."
He went on to say that he is here in Boston because he wants another championship ring, wants to be a part of this run with the Celtics, this two-year plan to make more memories and win more titles, before this team gets blown up and starts rebuilding.
"I like making history," he said.
"So you want to bring a reality TV show to Boston?" a reporter asked him.
"Yes," Shaq said, without missing a beat. "Me and you in a clam chowder-eating contest."