Shaquille O’Neal has nothing but gratitude for Orlando Magic Hall of Fame honor

Shaquille O'Neal was inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame on Friday, March 27, 2015. Photo by Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily
Shaquille O'Neal was inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame on Friday, March 27, 2015. Photo by Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily /

Shaquille O’Neal was inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame and showed nothing but gratitude for an honor that seemed a no brainer.

There has been bitterness. There has been mudslinging. There has been frustration. There has been false starts in rekindling the relationship.

There has been forgiveness?

Perhaps not. That will still come with the fans.

But perhaps Friday can be a first step as Shaquille O’Neal was inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame, getting his own commemorative plaque in the Amway Center concourse and his moment in the sun in front of the Magic fans at the end of the first quarter of tonight’s game against the Pistons.

For one thing, Shaquille O’Neal maintained a great relationship with Rich DeVos and the DeVos family despite the bitter exit. And for another, O’Neal expressed nothing but gratitude for the Magic welcoming him back into the fold and honoring him in this way.

“When I got the call, I couldn’t believe it,” O’Neal said. “Me and the DeVos family, we kept a close relationship even after I left in 1996. We have done a lot of business together and a lot of personal things together. It is a first class family and a first-class organization. It’s an honor, especially when it is coming from the DeVos family.”

As O’Neal accepted his induction he told the story of when he first met Rich DeVos before the Draft. He was flown from San Antonio to meet DeVos in Orlando on the team’s private jet. As he told this story, DeVos rolled up in his wheelchair to the festivities and shook O’Neal’s hand. It provided an interesting juxtaposition of the mammoth 7-foot-1 center and the octogenarian business magnate, confined now to a wheelchair.

But both have been equal titans in the city of Orlando. It was the beginning of what they hoped would be a huge partnership for the city. Even though it was a short playing relationship, there is no denying the impact.

It is hard to imagine now what this team and what this city was when the Magic drafted O’Neal in 1992.

The Magic were still a new thing, entering their third year in the NBA. The city was still just the airport you flew in through to get to Disney. The Central Florida area had not blossomed in the way that it has quite yet.

O’Neal helped make the Magic an international brand (largely on his own magnanimous personality). The team became a representation of the city and became a reason to visit the town beyond its world-class attractions. That dream has been fully realized with downtown’s revitalization, the Innovation Way project that includes Medical City and, yes, Amway Center and the events center packages.

It cannot all be put on Shaq, but Shaq made the city dream bigger than it ever had before.

But 1996 still looms large.

The concern throughout the week has been whether fans will boo O’Neal when he gets introduced tonight. There are fans that still have not gotten over the comments he may have made out the door in Orlando and there are fans who still believe he should have stayed or been nicer to the organization through the past two decades since his departure.

O’Neal might believe that too. Addressing the decision to leave, O’Neal said it was purely a business decision. The DeVos family knew that. He accomplished the winning he wanted elsewhere.

That did not mean his heart did not stay somewhat in Orlando. He still lives here after all, and he said he will continue to do so.

“This is where I started,” O’Neal said. “This is where I should have stayed. I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [championships]. It’s a shame that it got torn apart. But I think about that all the time. I try not to live my life now on ifs and would-a should-a. But do I regret leaving here in 96? Yes. Knowing what I know now, I would have stayed. I would have stayed and fulfilled my seven years and look at it differently after my seven years.”

O’Neal said he wished he had more patience. He wanted to win as soon as possible even as he left the Magic for the Lakers. He had to learn even there that it takes time to build things up.

O’Neal said even his father was upset as his decision to leave Orlando in 1996. The grass needed time to grow before it could be greener in Los Angeles.

Time has a way of recasting decisions and giving us the benefit of 20/20 vision. There is no going back on history and these decisions. O’Neal went off to Los Angeles and won three championships with the Lakers, becoming the most dominant center in the league at the time. Magic fans continued to boo every time he returned.

The Hall of Fame induction is also not about what could have been, although this is very much a part of Shaquille O’Neal’s Magic legacy.

So too should be O’Neal’s play on the court — 27.2 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game in his four seasons in Orlando — including that trip to the Finals (another regret of his is letting that series slip away).

“This was a great city, a great organization,” O’Neal said. “The people here were great. It was a fabulous time. I had a great time being a young man growing into an adult here. We had our heartbreak in 95, that still kind of uspets me. B. Hill knows, Nick knows, Jeff knows, we could have beat those guys blindfolded but we let one get away. Those times here were great. Everyone here that was part of those times, I would also like to thank you. I appreciate you very much.”

Whether we like to admit it or not, O’Neal has always been part of the Magic family, inextricably a part of the family. And that will never change. Even if O’Neal chooses to characterize the Magic as part of the Shaq brand, as he did when being welcomed intot he Hall of Fame, it is a two-way street.

Shaq cannot tell his story without the Magic, the Magic cannot tell their story without him.

Honoring him in this way is the least the organization could do to thank him in return.

Next: Shaq had to leave to further his career