Former NBA great Shaquille O’Neal has won many honors and awards and one day will headline an NBA Hall of Fame class, but his alma mater may have bested them all.
O’Neal, one of the most powerful centers to play the game, was caught off guard Thursday when Louisiana State University unveiled a 900-pound bronze statue of a young O’Neal dunking a basketball. The statue sits in front of the basketball program’s new practice facility.
“I don't think there is anything comparable to what this means to me,” said O'Neal at a press conference Thursday. “Coach [Trent] Johnson sent me little sculptures of what the [statue] would look like. So, I thought it was one of those little things. When that curtain came down, it was like 'wow.'... I'm honored and humbled. There are a lot of great players that came through this university, greater than me. There were Pistol Pete Maravich, Bob Pettit, Chris Jackson. I'm honored that they chose me to build a statue of. I had no idea it was that big. I think it's beautiful. It's fabulous.”
The statue honoring the Tigers' most famous and celebrated basketball player was Johnson’s idea, who has only been the LSU coach a couple of seasons.
"Coach Johnson is doing a fabulous job of bringing [former LSU basketball players] back together,” O'Neal said. “Coach Johnson and me have become good friends. He told me he wanted to [build a statue of me]. I told him to stop playing. He sent me e-mails and I realized he was really serious.... I want to thank coach Trent Johnson. I really appreciate you very much."
But the moment wouldn’t have been right if the recently retired O’Neal didn’t have a surprise or two for the crowd. O’Neal, who signed on as an in-studio analyst with TNT this summer, says he has been working on an advanced degree and would soon be going by Dr. O’Neal.
“A lot of people don't know this, but hopefully I will graduate in December and become Dr. O'Neal,” he said in a story that appeared on Tigerbait.com. “I've been working on that the last four years. I didn't want to let a lot of people know until I actually became a doctor.... I'm working on my dissertation now. Unfortunately, I will no longer answer to Shaq. You will have to call me Dr. O'Neal.”
(Photo: AP Photo/John Raoux, File)