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His 19 NBA seasons and four titles now all distinctively behind him, Shaquille O’Neal sometimes wonders what more could have been.
What more might have he achieved if only he’d stayed with what he now seems to view as one of the best squads he’s ever starred on long enough to give them the chance to hoist all the banners he now appears convinced they would have been worthy of.
“We had a young fabulous team,” the now 43-year-old O’Neal recently reflected of those Orlando Magic teams of the early 1990s that also starred Penny Hardaway and Nick Anderson.” The Big Aristotle was in town to be formally inducted into the franchise’s Hall of Fame and his mind seemed to be racing at breakneck speeds.
“It’s a shame that we got torn apart,” he added. “But I think about that all the time. I try not to live my life now on ‘ifs’ or ‘would’ve, should’ve,’ but do I regret leaving here in ’96, yes I do.”
O’Neal later added, “Is this where I started and should have stayed? I actually wish they made it a law that whoever drafts you, you gotta stay there your whole career.”
Certainly the Magic and their fans would have few qualms about that scenario playing out. O’Neal went on to team with Kobe Bryant under Phil Jackson in Los Angeles to win three titles and solidify the spot he now eternally holds in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Along the way, he added his fourth chip in tandem with Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley in Miami.
There was a time when it appeared the upstart Magic were on that very kind of trek. Over his first four seasons in Orlando, the Magic made the jump from an expansion team to a squad savvy enough to advance to the NBA Finals by 1995. But, almost as instantly as their seemingly dynasty-in-the-making came about, it all came crashing down.
By the summer of 1996, O’Neal had become a free-agent and the Lakers and Hollywood came calling with a seven-year, $120 million dollar offer he simply couldn’t refuse.
“We won games, and then I made a business decision,” O’Neal recalls of his time in Orlando. “”It’s never personal….It was all business.”
Still, Shaquille O’Neal never became too big, too high-and mighty, not to be willing admit that even now his heart still sometimes tugs at him based on the way things all played out.
“I wish I would have had more patience,” he said. “I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that is I wanted to win then. Even when I got [to Los Angeles], I still got bashed. It took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there, with those guys out there, I could win right away and that wasn’t the case. Now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster I would have had more patience.”
On that, he and Orlando Magic fans will always be in agreement.
video courtesy ESPN.com
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