Windermere, Fla. — Shaquille O’Neal changed from his gray T-shirt and sweat pants into a three-piece suit, then walked by some of the souvenirs he accrued during his NBA days for the final time as an active player.
Framed jerseys from the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky, Mark McGwire, Kirby Puckett, Steve Young and Jerry Rice. An NBA finals MVP trophy. Bottles of wine with labels bearing the “S” logo that he borrowed from Superman and essentially made his own. Basketballs with the Miami Heat logos painted on them, one to commemorate his 25,000th point, the other for his 10,000th rebound. A photo of him, Bill Russell and John Wooden.
It took him 19 years to collect those memories.
On Friday, he vowed to start truly savoring them.
“It’s time for what’s next,” the Big Fella said.
The 39-year-old O’Neal made his retirement official, reiterating what he revealed in a video posted to Twitter two days earlier. Saying those words where he did brought a full-circle piece of closure to his career, since it all ended at his home in a suburb of Orlando, the city where his pro days began when the Magic made him the No. 1 pick in 1992.
“Never thought this day would come,” O’Neal said. “Father Time has finally caught up with Shaquille O’Neal.”
Speculation has been high for weeks that O’Neal’s playing days were over, and the widely expected became real on Wednesday. It took him 10 seconds to announce his plans in the online video. Tributes have poured in and on Friday, O’Neal thanked just about everyone he could remember.
His parents, thanking his father for his discipline and his mother for sneaking him cake, milk and cookies when that discipline prevented the boy from getting his own.
“And I’m really going to miss the free throws,” deadpanned O’Neal, a notoriously bad foul-shooter.