The Miami Heat officially raised Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey to the rafters of the AmericanAirlines Arena at halftime of Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
O’Neal was surrounded by his family and teared up when the jersey was raised up to the rafters to join the retired jerseys of Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. Heat president Pat Riley reminisced about when the big man showed up in an 18-wheeler on Biscayne Blvd and promised to the huge crowd of fans that a championship parade would soon come to downtown Miami.
“He delivered on that promise,“ Riley said.
Riley playfully dumped hundreds of cards saved from the “15 Strong” playoff campaign during the 2006 championship run.
O’Neal individually called up former teammates Udonis Haslem and Alonzo Mourning to personally thank them for their contributions during the Heat’s first ever title run.
“I want to thank you,” he said to Haslem. “You are the true definition of Miami. You are the true definition of a championship player.”
“I remember when Pat called me up to the office and told me Zo wanted to play,” he recalled when calling up Mourning to the podium. “Let me think about it. I said, ‘Hell yeah’. I didn’t have the best Finals but you came and backed me up. I told you back at the Hall of Fame that I couldn’t do it without you.”
Shaq Diesel smiled when remembering how he asked Riley to move back practice to a later time (so the team could better enjoy the nightlife here), or the time when Riley famously dumped his head into a bucket of ice cold water in practice to inspire his troops.
“I wish (Dwyane Wade) was here but when I was getting traded from L.A. I said if I wanted to play anywhere, I wanted to play in Miami,” he said. “I want to thank the (Micky) Arison family, the Heat organization, Pat, I want to thank you guys and everybody. It was a great time. This was really unexpected.
“Coach Riley, I couldn’t have done it without you. A lot of people think we have problems but I love you and I respect you. The day you decided to take over, I knew we were going to win.”
O’Neal averaged 19.8 points per game, shot 60% from the field, and grabbed 9.1 rebounds during his time with the Heat.