Some months ago I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Dale Brown (via telephone). Daddy Dale's reputation and tenure at LSU is still debated amongst the fanbase, but it's impossible to ignore his consuming personality. During the interview, Dale told many great stories, but perhaps most interesting were his tales of a young Shaq, going back to when he first met him at as a teenager to the time he had the pleasure of coaching him all the way to their current, ongoing friendship.Perhaps most interesting was Dale noting Shaq's supreme intelligence and discipline. Coming from a military background, Shaq grew up with a strong influence from his father. The specific details are fuzzy (and I don't feel like taking the time to re-listen at the moment), but Dale noted that young Shaq was a self-conscious, nay shy even, young athlete. That's a near impossible image for the modern sports fan to connect to the Shaq we all know and love of today. He told a story of Shaq being fearful of having to give a speech for Speech class and coming to his office asking for guidance early every morning. He used the story to further elaborate on his point that getting an education was always a priority to Shaq (something he's continued well into his adult life, now pursuing a PhD).
My parents both attended LSU during the Shaq years and have passed on stories of seeing him at the mall, towering above other shoppers. My grandmother worked at LSU her entire life and has mentioned to me on multiple occasions that she would see him playing pick-up basketball with randoms out at the courts. There was a recent story out about Shaq being hesitant to give the okay to a statue of himself built outside the PMAC ahead of other great LSU legends. He's donated countless amounts of money to the university, but refuses to have his named tattooed across the things which come from him generous donations.
He's a consummate humanitarian, using his platform and wealth to support a seemingly endless list of charities and causes. Yes, I realize almost every professional athlete is involved in similar activities these days, and perhaps I'm being a homer, but I get the sense his charity work comes from a place of genuine concern/sympathy rather than the need to project a favorable image to the public. Hell, he works as a reserve police officer in his spare time.
Really these are just a few facets of what make him such a marvelous representative of LSU. Is he perfect? Kazaam would tell us otherwise. On a serious note, despite his rather comical attempts at an acting and rap career, he's had spousal trouble and public feuds with Kobe Bryant that perhaps leave some with an unsavory taste regarding his character. But to me, it only adds to his mythos. He's not a robot (Tim Duncan) or "say and do everything right" pr drone. He's a human being. Just like the rest of us, he has faults and flaws and unfortunately for him, his are on display for the world to see. And despite all that, he's been a model citizen and a representative of what all LSU athletes should hope to become.
When the news dropped of his retirement, I was immediately saddened. It's not that I didn't know it was coming. And, realistically, this is probably a couple of years overdue. It's been difficult to watch him in recent years, since he's really only a shell of his former self. But I think the entire basketball world is saddened by the news, both to lose him as a player and person. He's an icon. And though he never reached the "Jordan level" of being a truly transcendent athlete, he's about as close as they come. That's something that just can't and won't be easily replaced.
In many ways, Shaq may be my favorite LSU athlete of all time. Not just from the pure physical dominance he exerted on the court, but for the person he became. He'll be remembered for his zany quotes, monstrous dunks and inviting personality. But I'll also remember him for his quiet humility, tremendous work ethic, and, of course, Shaq Fu.
What memories do you guys have of the Big Shaqtus?