Buck Harvey: Shaq missed his last stop: The Big Exit

The Spurs said they were open. If Tiago Splitter hadn’t signed last summer, they say they would have talked to another big man.

Who knows? Apply enough Icy Hot to Shaquille O’Neal, and maybe he survives the season.

As it turned out, nothing could save his Achilles tendon. His retirement is mostly about that.

But what if Splitter had stayed in Europe another year?

And what if Shaq had returned to where he started?

As it is, Shaq is leaving without going anywhere. He’s just no longer playing basketball.

He has a few businesses, and he says he’s working on a dissertation. He’ll likely come up with another television project, and then there’s the natural destination.

There’s still room next to Kenny and Charles.

He would fit. Shaq was as big a ?personality as he was a basketball player, and that’s saying something. He ranks among the five best centers in history.

The others were mostly introverts. Shaq, instead, understood the stage, and that was clear Wednesday. Then, he used both a Finals off-day and the social media to maximize attention.

That’s the Shaq who used to say NBA stood for “Nothing But Actors.” The same guy who donned a mask to dance before an All-Star game, who gave a nickname to everyone, including to Tim Duncan, could be playful and approachable and funny.

He was just a big kid, everyone said, and he sometimes had the maturity of a 12-year-old. Shaq could be petty, and along the way, he damaged relationships. The current Finals matchup outlines one of them.

After all, the Heat needed a big body last summer more than the Spurs did. Shaq was available, and at a cheap price, but Pat Riley never considered it. Riley thought Shaq ruined the memories of their title together by the way he acted after he left Miami.

The Miami Herald gave him yet another nickname then. “The Big Bridge Burner.”

It probably didn’t help Shaq, either, that he had once called Chris Bosh “The RuPaul of centers.”

Shaq’s sense of humor often wasn’t that funny. Once, when talking about Yao Ming, Shaq slurred, “Ching chong yang wah ah so.”

When Shaq began to hear criticism, Yao saved him. “Chinese is hard to learn,” Yao joked then. “I had trouble with it when I was little.”

Shaq was rarely as subtle or as thoughtful. He treated others as if his dunks gave him that right. The list of those he has gone after ranges from Penny Hardaway to the Sacramento Kings, from Kobe Bryant to Phil Jackson, from the Heat medical staff to Dwight Howard, and from Stan Van Gundy to anyone who ever tried to take a charge from him.

But those are people, not places. And there was something about San Antonio, even with friends still living here, that tapped into a base insecurity.

As for his primary target: As much as Shaq has wanted people to believe his rivalry with David Robinson was just an inside joke, there was something real going on.

It came out on the court. It came out in Shaq’s book, too, when he called him “Punk-ass David.”

But over the years, Shaq softened, and last year showed all of it. He posed on a bench at Harvard Square in an afternoon of performance art, and he became Shaq-a-Claus at Christmas. He threw a birthday party for himself at the Children’s Museum in Boston and, according to a story on ESPN.com, he stopped at a Boston nursing home “to watch a Celtics road game after a resident wrote him a letter inviting him to dinner.”

He couldn’t play well anymore, but he could live well. So what if he had come back, joining Duncan, completing the circle?

Here’s a guess.

San Antonio would have liked this Shaq.


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