After 3 1/2 years in Miami, a tenure that included his fourth NBA championship, O'Neal became a veteran for hire, moving to Phoenix and then Cleveland and finally Boston. But he couldn’t deliver another title for Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire with the Suns, with LeBron James with the Cavaliers, or with the Celtics‘ Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
At each stop, he endeared himself to the fans and his new teammates with his effervescent smile and playful attitude, including the habit of adopting a new nickname he felt embodied his role with his new team. In Phoenix he was the “Big Shaqtus”; in Boston, the “Big Shamroq.”
“What a career for Shaq Diesel!!” James wrote on Twitter. “The most dominating force to ever play the game. Great person to be around as well. Comedy all the time!!”
O'Neal connected with more than 3.8 million followers of his Twitter account, keeping them informed of his “random acts of Shaqness” _ like sitting in Harvard Square, pretending to be a statue, or going out in drag on Halloween.
But his off-court persona couldn’t disguise the fact he was getting old, and while he showed he could still play with younger opponents, he couldn’t manage to stay on the court with them. He missed a week in November with a bruised right knee, a week in December with a calf injury, and another in January with a sore right hip.
He returned for three games _ a total of about 34 minutes _ before missing the next 27 games with what the team called a sore right leg. Although the injury was originally expected to keep him out just a few games, his absence stretched to more than two months.
He returned to play in one more regular-season game, but lasted just 5 minutes, 29 seconds before reinjuring the leg and limping off the court. He missed Boston’s entire first-round series against the New York Knicks and made two appearances against Miami, a total of 12 minutes, and scored two points.
In all, O'Neal averaged just 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 20.3 minutes this season _ all career lows.
“I’m glad that he retired. I think it was time,” former guard Tim Hardaway said. “He was hurting his legacy. You don’t want to see anybody hurt their legacy when they’re going out. I think a lot of people are happy he didn’t go through that pain of waiting too long. And I think it was tough for everybody to watch Shaq when he was playing hurt like that at the end of this season.”
And that left O'Neal in the market for a new nickname.
After announcing his retirement, he asked fans to give him a nickname that befit his retirement. He reported at about 5 p.m. that “The Big 401K” was the leader.
“I know you can do better, though,” he said in another video. “I’m here all day. I’m retired.”
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney and AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report from Miami.