HOUSTON (AP) — Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tom Izzo, Sheryl Swoopes, Yao Ming and Jerry Reinsdorf were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The announcement was made in Houston in advance of Monday night’s NCAA tournament championship game between Villanova and North Carolina.
Iverson was an 11-time NBA All-Star who was named rookie of the year in 1996-97. The top overall pick in the 1992 draft, O’Neal was a 15-time All-Star who was the NBA MVP in 2000 and a three-time NBA Finals MVP.
Izzo, the Michigan State coach, won a national title in 2000 and has taken his team to the Final Four seven times. Swoopes helped Texas Tech to a national title, won four titles with the Houston Comets, was a three-time WNBA MVP and won three Olympic gold medals.
Yao was the top overall pick in 2002 and was an eight-time NBA All-Star playing his entire career for the Houston Rockets. Reinsdorf has been the owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox for more than two decades.
Here are Advocate sports columnist Scott Rabalais’ thoughts on O’Neal’s selection:
I remember the first time I laid eyes on Shaquille O’Neal.
I had heard about this recruiting phenom coming to LSU’s campus, already amazed by the tale of Dale Brown meeting him at a U.S. Army base in Germany when Shaq was 13 and mistaking him for a soldier. I had to see this man child, this borderline legend, for myself.
It was somewhere near the then-newly-named Pete Maravich Assembly Center in the summer of 1989. I was just about to graduate. He was just a freshman.
OK, he was the size of two freshmen. Maybe three. He was just 17 that summer. It was hard to believe someone could be that tall at that age. Now I think of that Billy Crystal line from “Analyze This:”
“You’re a planet!”
In the many years since that day, the man whose first name and middle name (Rashaun) amusingly mean “Little Warrior” has only gotten bigger.
The last time I saw him up close was about a year and a half ago when he and Brown were being inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Missouri. I had almost forgotten what a huge individual he is. The day he announced he was turning pro, we put an actual-size photo of one of his size-22 sneakers on the front page of The Advocate sports section. It took up nearly the entire page.
That day in Kansas City — like Monday, the day O’Neal was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Houston — was about more than Shaq’s 7-foot-1 physical presence. It was about him being the biggest name in the induction class two years ago, the biggest name in the induction class Monday, the biggest name in LSU athletics history.
If you took a poll around here of who LSU’s most famous athlete is, Billy Cannon would probably still outdistance every other contender, like he outraced the Ole Miss Rebels to the end zone back on Halloween night in 1959. You can also make the argument that no college basketball player was better than Pete Maravich, still and likely forever more the most prolific scorer in the game. And when Sports Illustrated in February ranked the 50 greatest players in NBA history, O’Neal came in at No. 15, two spots back of early NBA and LSU legend Bob Pettit.
But more than any of them — Cannon, Pettit, Pistol Pete, the lot of athletes who have writ their names large in the history of LSU athletics — O’Neal shines the brightest.
If you step back and look at the entire planet from space, you’d still be able to see O’Neal. He’s like the Great Wall or the Bahama Banks. From pole to pole and every continent on the globe, they know Shaq. If they had a hall of fame for the most famous LSU athletes, no one else would be in the building.
He is Shaq, Shaq Diesel, The Big Aristotle, The Big Cactus, The Big Shamrock and half a dozen other nicknames he probably dreamed up over breakfast. He is a movie star and a rapper and who cares if he was never as good at those things as he was at basketball. And it’s hard to watch a basketball game without seeing someone named Shaquille on the court.
In a way, O’Neal has been the product of his times. Imagine if there were “SportsCenter” back when Maravich was scorching nets across the Southeastern Conference to the tune of 44 points per game. He would have been an even bigger superstar than he turned out to be.
O’Neal took basketball and made it the platform to hurtle his amazing physical talent and incredible personality into show biz. He bridged the entertainment gap the way few athletes of his or any era ever have. Michael Jordan may have starred in “Space Jam,” but O’Neal gave humanity “Kazaam.”
OK, score that one for Air Jordan.
Still, they came to honor O’Neal on Monday for what he did on the court. He won four NBA titles, one MVP award and three NBA Finals MVP awards and earned 15 All-Star selections over an impressive 19-year career. He broke records and broke backboards. I think one of the shots he blocked at LSU is still embedded in a PMAC wall.
He’s the biggest. He’s the best. He’s a hall of famer through and through. And more than any athlete ever, he has carried the LSU banner around the world he made his own.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.