The Miami Heat will soon raise a big banner for the Big Aristotle.
Shaquille O’Neal will have his No. 32 jersey retired at the beginning of the next season. The 15-time All-Star played 3 1/2 seasons with the Heat, and in 2006 he helped deliver the franchise its first title.
“I think all the building blocks that Micky [Arison] and Pat [Riley] put in place and all the great Heat teams that couldn’t get over the hump, and then we brought in Shaq, and it really felt like it was larger than life, that team,” said coach Erik Spoelstra, who was an assistant coach during O’Neal’s tenure in Miami.
“And it’s felt like the Heat has continued with that kind of mentality. So he had a great impact on the organization. And after time, it’s good to see that that’s recognized.”
O’Neal joins Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway as the only Heat players to have their numbers retired and raised in the AmericanAirlines Arena rafters.
“I got the call a couple days ago, and then I saw the great Pat Riley at the Super Bowl the other day. He told me the news,” Oneal said on TNT. “I’d like to thank Pat Riley, the Heat organization, the Arison family, everyone down there, D-Wade, Udonis Haslem.”
O’Neal’s time in Miami came to a messy end when he was traded to Phoenix in 2008. He took shots at Riley on the way out, but the four-time NBA champion has repaired his relationship with the Heat in recent years.
“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform,” Riley said. “He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship.”
O’Neal is still Miami’s all-time leader in field-goal percentage (59.6 percent) and ranks third in scoring average (19.6), fifth in blocks (384), seventh in free throws attempted (1,708), eighth in offensive rebounds (621), ninth in double-doubles (84), 11th in total rebounds (1,856), 12th in defensive rebounds (1,235), 12th in field goals made (1,612), 13th in free throws made (786), 14th in points (4,010), 14th in double-figure scoring games (191), 14th in starts (203) and 15th in field goals attempted (2,703).
Among the Heat’s all-time postseason leaders, O’Neal ranks second in dunks (116), fourth in free throws attempted (315), fifth in double-doubles (15), fifth in double-figure scoring games (37), fifth in 20-point games (16), sixth in field goals made (312), sixth in total rebounds (361), sixth in offensive rebounds (110), sixth in defensive rebounds (251), and sixth in blocks (59).
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is an intense competitor, but after the Heat defeated the Spurs in the 2013 NBA Finals, he sought out Dwyane Wade and LeBron James on the Heat’s court after Game 7.
“He was one of the first ones to come up and hug us,” Wade said Monday. “He told me right then and there, ‘You guys won because you were Dwyane Wade and LeBron James was LeBron James.
“When you’re all like that it’s hard to beat you guys.’ It was cool, but it was unexpected. That’s just the guy he’s become. As a player it’s flattering to know if you do give your best and beat him he’s going to tell you ‘helluva game.’ ”
Wade said he developed a relationship with Popovich at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and he voiced his “unbelievable amount of respect” for the Spurs coach before Tuesday’s game against San Antonio.
PRAISE FOR BOSH
Chris Bosh has repeatedly downplayed his return from blood clots in his lung, but the normally short-winded Popovich raved about Bosh’s comeback season.
“He’s such a class act on top of being a talented player,” Popovich said. “You pull for those kind of guys even more than the usual just good player.
“So to have him back, seeing him doing what he loves and helping his team is good for him, his team, his city and the NBA, really. He’s one of those class acts that you would like to use as an example as much as you possibly can. He’s a wonderful young man.”