Shaquille O’Neal’s 19 year NBA career came to a comedic halt with Friday’s wildly entertaining press conference / monologue, one in which the former LSU product repeatedly thanked the media for their part in establishing his legend. One member of the fourth estate whom Shaq might not want to send a candygram to is the Sun-Sentinel’s Ira Winderman, who uses the occasion of O’Neil’s farewell to remind us that his exit from Miami was not entirely dignified.
Back in 2008 it was a hip that sidelined O’Neal a third of the way into the season, or at least that was the cover story, as the Heat were careening to a league-worst 15-67 finish. By late December 2007, he said he could not play, despite, according to one insider, wrestling on the locker-room carpet with teammates before taking a seat on the bench on game nights in a suit.
It started to get fishy. And then it got fishier. There was a push from O’Neal’s agent for a buyout, an aggressive push. O’Neal apparently had a suitor, a contender that only could add him at a minimal salary, certainly nothing along the lines of the $20 million he was earning at the time.
The Heat balked at the buyout bid. There was a stare down. O’Neal refused to play, citing the lack of training techniques he said the Suns used later that season to revive his career, techniques Heat trainers privately insisted they urged O’Neal to consider at the time.
And then, after Arison finally worked out a trade with the Suns on Feb. 6, 2008, it came to a head. The truth was revealed.
The mystery suitor was the Mavericks, a gambit by Cuban, or his intermediaries, that so infuriated Arison that he would later say, “Shaq, through his agent, put himself in play. That’s when we decided we couldn’t just deal with Cuban. We had to find another party.”