Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reunited And It Feels So...Good?

The Big Fella, the Big Aristotle, the Big Cactus, even the Big Jabbawockee...whatever you call him, Shaquille O'Neal is one of the most captivating athletes and showmen in the history of sports. Sure, he doesn't play the second night of back-to-backs any longer and gravity has imposed it's will a little more harshly on his elevation off the floor in recent years, but no big man in the history of the game has ever been more dominant or more comfortable in his own skin than the Diesel.

O'neal was up to his standard horseplay over the weekend in the desert, doing his best Hot Sauce impersonation at the top of the key against Kobe Bryant in pre-game warmups, throwing a bounce pass through Dwight Howard's legs to set up a give-and-go dunk with New Orleans' Chris Paul, and even performing a choreographed intro dance that was the highlight of the entire weekend.

He has always been jovial, fun-loving, and the consummate showman, and the All-Star game has been the quintessential forum for Shaq's infectious and lighthearted personality to shine through. But this time it was different.

Realizing that this could possibly be and might likely be his last All-Star Weekend, a different side of O'neal emerged. He was reflective, thoughtful, and very grateful, seemingly taking it all in knowing that it would soon come to a close. As if Green Day's "Good Riddance" was softly playing in his head, Shaq soaked in all the sights and sounds of the game, joking with teammates and friends, getting the crowd involved and energized, shooting the breeze with former coach Phil Jackson, and yes, even extending on olive branch to former teammate and Co-MVP Kobe Bryant.

The MVP announcement had me searching for the screenwriter's name on IMDB, but despite its psuedo-orchestrated feel, I couldn't help but smile. Arguably the two biggest stars of the post-Michael NBA, once together dominating the NBA as the greatest 1-2 punch in the game, since separated amidst a swarm of discontent and disharmony, together again hoisting the All-Star MVP trophy to sky side-by-side. What a story.

With this triumph, David Stern's knack for public relations perfection reached a whole new stratosphere. As if the ubiquitous NBA Cares commercials and birthday cake for Bill Russell weren't enough, Stern was now playing Dr. Phil by reuniting two former superstar teammates with a history of discord. Genius, just genius....24 karat Public Relations.

With both smiling and laughing for the camera, the superstars whose paths just can't seem to avoid one another had another chapter written into their often tumultuous, often victorious story Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. The pair at shot one another looks as if to say coyly, "I just can't get rid of you can I?" as they answered questions in the post-game press conference. The sense of nostalgia in Shaq's voice was acutely apparent as he talked about reuniting with the old gang and thought back on the great things that they accomplished together.

Call me sentimental and maybe a bit of conspiracy theorist, but on a day when Shaq realized all he had achieved in the game, it is only fitting that he would share the spotlight with the one person with whom he will be forever linked.

And I'm not talking about a Jabbawockee.

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