Shaquille O'Neal Retires: Best NBA Center Ever? Probably Not

Shaquille O'Neal retired from the NBA today after 19 seasons, using Twitter to tell the world that he had decided to call it a career. How else would one of the most gregarious, socially accessible superstars sports has ever known have announced his retirement?

O'Neal ends his career fifth on the NBA all-time scoring list with 28.596 points, four NBA championships and one MVP trophy. For his career, which saw him play for six teams, Shaq averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Shaq averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds in all of his first 13 seasons.

There will be a rush to judge O'Neal's place in the history of the NBA. SB Nation Kansas City's Matt Conner, in fact, has already declared O'Neal the best center in the history of the NBA. Conner wrote:

Some can point to prestigious names already ensconced in the NBA Hall of Fame -- names like Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Others will point to contemporaries like Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson or Patrick Ewing. Certainly George Mikan or Bill Walton also warrant consideration. Yet when it's all said and done, O'Neal is the one who stands with the greatest combination of achievements, stats, charisma and impact above any others. And it's this reason that the greatest center of all-time left on his terms.

Sorry, Matt. Not buying.

Let's say this. When it comes to charisma, there has probably never been a superstar like Shaq in any sport. The huge smile, the the Twitter accessibility, TV appearances, movies, music videos. Shaq loves being Shaq, and what he undoubtedly is is the friendliest, most fun-loving, accessible athletic superstar I can think of.

But the greatest center? On the court? Take charisma out of it, because it has no bearing on what happens on the court.

Shaq better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 36,387 points? I don't think so. Shaq never averaged 30 points per game, something Jabbar did four times. He never averaged 14 rebounds per game, something Abdul-Jabbar did seven times. Kareem was a six-time MVP. That's a lot more than Shaq's single MVP.

Shaq better than Wilt Chamberlain, a guy who once averaged more than 50 points and 25 rebounds in a season? I don't think so. Shaq, on the court, was this generation's Wilt. A big, physical guy who just overwhelmed people when he was at his best. Chamberlain is fourth in NBA history with 31,419 points, and averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game.

I understand that there is a difference in eras, numbers of teams and all that. Shaq was not better than either of these guys, however.

There are those who will argue for Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, a five-time MVP who averaged 22.5 rebounds and 15.1 points in his career.

The top centers in the history of the game is definitely a short list, and Shaquille O'Neal is definitely on it. We tend, though, to think of the last thing we saw as the best that we ever saw, and I think that is the case with O'Neal. To say unequivocally that he is the best ever, though, is an overstatement.

Before I leave you, though, I have to drop this video as a 'present' for New York Knicks fans. This is Shaq devastating Patrick Ewing and the Knicks back when he was at the height of his dominance. Ewing had no chance.

Shaquille O'neal 43 points vs Knicks at MSG 1999-2000 (via mayhem8z)

-- Much more on Shaq's retirement at SBNation.com

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