Coming out unusually early during pregame warm-ups, something he rarely did, O'Neal looked toward the opposite end of the court, almost dismissively, and said, "That won't be me."
There, Patrick Ewing was working as a Rockets assistant coach. And although it is safe to say Shaq has greater plans for his future than setting up practice shots for neophyte big men, it wasn't Ewing's at-the-moment reality he was referring to.
It was the recent past, namely Ewing spending the 2000-01 season as a Seattle SuperSonic and the '01-02 season as an Orlando Magic.
O'Neal was saying this while wearing his third NBA uniform, as many as Ewing had worn during his entire 17-season career, with Shaq already, somewhat uncomfortably, having completed tenures with the Magic and Lakers.
His point was he wouldn't hang on beyond his expiration date, on some sort of year-to-year existence, tarnishing what came before, just as some said Ewing had after 15 epic seasons with the New York Knicks.
And yet here Shaq stands, at 38 signing with the Celtics, his third team in as many seasons, now not only a former Magic, Laker and Heat, but also a former Sun and Cavalier, as well.
Ewing hardly tarnished his legacy by playing past his 39th birthday. Ask most basketball fans to name the three NBA teams Ewing played for, and there probably will be a blank stare after mentioning New York.
Just like Michael Jordan will always be a Chicago Bull.
And Robert Parish a Boston Celtic.
But Shaq also is bigger than Ewing, and by more than stature.
This is an iconic reputation that must be upheld.
Lately, it is a reputation carved more away from the court, from “Shaq Vs.,” to alternating annoyances and apologies with Kobe.
Granted, Shaq had his moments in recent years with the Heat, Suns and Cavaliers, but those efforts came on his terms, as a starter, a featured component of the offense.
But now he is Ewing in a Magic uniform in 2001-02.
Before that lone season in Orlando, Ewing had started each of his 1,118 career games. That season, he started just four times in 65 appearances.
Although Shaq won't have to endure the indignity of backing up the likes of Stephen Hunter and Andrew DeClercq, he will, after 1,161 career starts, and only nine career appearances off the bench, now probably have to play in reserve.
At the start of the season, that probably means playing behind Jermaine O'Neal.
By midseason, it will mean backing up Kendrick Perkins, upon the return of the Celtics' mainstay from offseason knee surgery.
If Shaq plays as a reserve in the Celtics' Oct. 26 season opener against the visiting Heat, it would be his first appearance off the bench since playing as a reserve for the Heat in a Jan. 24, 2007 game in Indiana, after he had missed two months with a knee injury.
So can this work?
It might not have to.
For now, Shaq merely stands as a bridge to Perkins' return, which is forecast for January or February.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Few this side of Phil Jackson has proven able to manage personalities better than Doc Rivers. He got Paul Pierce to buy into the team concept, developed Rajon Rondo into a premier playmaker, integrated Rasheed Wallace into last season's mix.
But don't overstate any O'Neal-Wallace parallels.
Whatever the external notion of Wallace might have been, he was beloved in the locker room.
The same can't necessarily be said about Shaq.
After the Spurs blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead, Tim Duncan stepped up in OT to thwart the Grizzlies' comeback attempt and give San Antonio a 2-0 series lead.
PBT: The Pacers were too tough for the Knicks, but Miami is a different animal. The clubs face off in the East finals, starting Wednesday night.
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