Shaquille O’Neal is arguably one of the most dominant players to ever play the game, an absolute beast in the low post. O’Neal is most often remembered for his Los Angeles Lakers days, where he won three NBA championships. He was the number one option in Los Angeles and one of the league’s top scorers. While O’Neal won three championships in Los Angeles, he also won one with the Miami Heat alongside Dwyane Wade. Despite not being as dominant as he once was, Shaq served as a great second option behind Wade.
The Voice of Reason
O’Neal often mentioned how he passed the torch to Wade as the team’s number one option. Now, it appears that another teammate played a role in making this happen. While speaking to Draymond Green, Gary Payton told a story about how he told Shaq to let Wade take over. Payton stated that he had a conversation with O’Neal about letting Wade be “first here.”
“I started seeing Shaq be mad about we’re not getting him the ball,” Payton said recently on The Draymond Green Show. “I just told Shaq. I said, ‘Shaq, listen here. Look what young fella (Wade) did last year. You see how he took over stuff. … You guys lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s why Pat came and put all of us together; he wanted a championship. We’re here now. We gotta stop this, man.’ I said, ‘Man, we’re gonna make him be the first here. Period. You gotta do this for me.’”
O’Neal eventually agreed, and it ended up being the best move. Miami was running the Eastern Conference again and defeated the Detroit Pistons in six games in the conference finals. In their first Finals appearance, Miami found themselves down 0-2 in the series against the Dallas Mavericks. Miami fought back and won four straight games to win their first NBA title. The Heat would not have won it all if Wade had not been the focal point. He averaged 34.7 points and 7.8 rebounds in his first NBA Finals. From there, he became one of the top stars in the game. There’s no doubt Wade was going to be an All-Star, but playing alongside O’Neal moved him into the echelon of best player in Heat history.
Shaq’s Legacy in Miami
O’Neal also impacted the Heat organization as a whole. Before O’Neal arrived in Miami, the Heat were carried by Pat Riley‘s legacy. Of course, they had Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, but they weren’t a prime destination for elite star talents. That changed when O’Neal arrived. With a championship under their belt, it allowed Miami to attract more stars. In 2010, Miami pulled off the biggest free agency coup in NBA History by landing Lebron James and Chris Bosh. With James and Bosh teaming up with Wade, Miami won two more championships in 2012 and 2013.
There were questions about Miami retiring O’Neal’s jersey. Though he only spent three and a half seasons in Miami, one culminating with a title. However, his effect on the team goes beyond his impact on the court. As mentioned, it’s changed the Heat culture. Miami is now a premiere destination for elite star free agents. Whenever a star player wants out of his current situation, you’ll normally see Miami’s name mentioned as a preferred destination. In all, Shaq ended up making a huge impact on the futures of both Wade and the Heat.
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