“The most dominant player I’ve ever seen.”
This was how Kobe Bryant described fellow Los Angeles Lakers great Shaquille O’Neal during the official unveiling of O’Neal’s statue at the Staples Center on Friday afternoon (Saturday, Manila time).
Bryant, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Derek Fisher were among the Lakers legends present at the ceremony to honor O’Neal, who is considered one of the greatest centers of all time.
A nine-foot 1,200-pound bronze statue of the Hall of Famer hanging 10 feet above the ground joins those of Magic Johnson, West, Abdul-Jabbar, Chick Hearn, Luc Robitaille, Oscar de la Hoya and Wayne Gretzky at Star Plaza.
O’Neal joined the Lakers as a free agent from Orlando in 1996 and played in Los Angeles for eight seasons. He and Bryant led the team to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000-2002. The big man also won the NBA Finals MVP award each time.
As a Laker, O’Neal was selected for the All-Star Game seven times and earned the league’s MVP for the 1999-2000 season.
"The thing that was most impressive to me was that he was such a fun and outgoing guy. Loves to tell jokes and have fun with his teammates but before tipoff something happens," Bryant shared to the audience in the public event. "The switch goes off of him. He no longer jokes around, he's no longer playing around. He's not smiling anymore and he's trying to dominate."
With his children standing behind him, O’Neal thanked his former teammates, coaches, the fans and the Buss Family before ending his speech with his trademark “Can you dig it?!”
For the game against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves the home team will be wearing special Stance socks depicting O’Neal in a purple and gold uniform.