Shaquille O'Neal lived a good part of his childhood in Germany, where his father was stationed as a military officer. It was while there that he learned to play basketball.
As a young man, he attended LSU, where he first became known by many basketball fans around the globe. In 1992 he was chosen by the Orlando Magic, and he helped the team to 41 wins that year, missing the playoffs by one game. He further raised his fame that year with two backboard-shattering dunks, both on national TV: The first came against the Phoenix Suns on NBC and the other against the New Jersey Nets, on TNT.
In the 1993-94 season, Shaq helped the Magic to their first playoff berth ever, and he also debuted in Hollywood, and released a rap CD, named Shaq Diesel. The movie Blue Chips, alongside teammate Anfernee Hardaway and Nick Nolte, marked his Hollywood debut.
In 1994-1995, O'Neal and Hardaway helped their team reach the NBA Finals, but they were swept in four games by Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny The Jet Smith and the rest of the Houston Rockets.
After the 1995-1996 season, Shaq, asking for 120 million dollars over seven years, left Orlando to join the Los Angeles Lakers. He and teammate Kobe Bryant created one of the most effective guard-center combinations in NBA history, although their relationship was a tenuous one and the two feuded with each other frequently in public and private.
Regardless, the two (coached by Phil Jackson) enjoyed tremendous success on the court, as O'Neal and Bryant led the Los Angeles Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles (2000, 2001, 2002). Shaq was named MVP of the NBA Finals all three times and has the highest scoring average for a center in Finals history. He was also voted the 1999-2000 regular season Most Valuable Player, coming just one vote short of becoming the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. Fred Hickman, then of CNN, was the sole voter who did not cast his first place vote for O'Neal (Hickman went with Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers).
At the beginning of the 2003-04 season, O'Neal announced he sought an extension to his contract. Laker management, however, was hesitant to meet his demands. The Lakers offered O'Neal a contract in February 2004 (according to the book Madmen's Ball by Mark Heisler) to remain the highest-paid player in the league but O'Neal refused.
After the Lakers were defeated by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, O'Neal was angered by comments made by Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak regarding his future with the club, and promptly demanded a trade.
On July 14 2004, Shaq was officially traded to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round draft choice. Shaq's new-look Heat surpassed all expectations, easily claiming the best record in the Eastern Conference. Despite being hobbled by a deep thigh bruise, Shaq lead the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals and a Game 7 against the defending champion Detroit Pistons, losing by a narrow margin. He narrowly lost the 2004-2005 MVP award to Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash in one of the closest votes in history.
In August 2005, Shaquille O'Neal signed an 5-year-extension with the Heat for 100 million dollars. Critics denounced this extension as overpaying an aging and often times injured player. His work ethic and attitude have consistently been questioned. On the other hand, the Miami Heat are currently considered contenders to win the NBA championship. If the Miami Heat win a championship, the trade and extension will be remembered as successes.
In game two of the 2005-2006 season, Shaq injured his right ankle and was out for 18 games. Since his return Shaq is averaging season low's in almost every category: points, rebounds, blocks and minutes per game. Critics believe he is getting older and slower, while his defenders believe its due to the aftermath of the ankle injury and feel that Shaq will become his dominant self when the playoffs arrive. True or not, Shaquille O'Neal still remains one of the top centers in the NBA today.
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