While I did recently name Shaq a Jerk of the Week, I just ran across this article, which reminded me of just how unique Shaq's influence on the NBA has been.
Shaq's playfulness (how many times has he been described as "the biggest kid in the world" in profiles?) coupled with a generous heart have made him one of the NBA's most powerful ambassadors, not just to fans, but also to his fellow players.
Would Shaq have had the same kind of impact if he were a sober and responsible adult? Almost certainly not--just look at David Robinson and Tim Duncan, transcendant talents who have made a career of being mature...and boring.
In the end, Shaq's key virtues and flaws are tied together--the exhuberance and playfulness that made him an icon probably go hand in hand with his immature and undisciplined personality. While Shaq's career may be shorter because of it, his flaws may have caused his flame to burn all the brighter while he was in his prime.
We'll miss him when he's gone. I'll miss him.
P.S. For a megadose of the wit and wisdom of the Big Aristotle, check out ShaqQuotes.com.
P.P.S. My funniest Shaq story didn't even require him to be present. My wife and I were in Orlando visiting her family when we stopped at the local SunTrust bank to pick up some of her old savings bonds. Since the bonds were in the vault, we were waiting for a good 15 minutes. The first thing that caught my attention was a bank customer trying desperately to wheedle some free calendars out of the bank teller. She kept telling him, "I'm sorry sir, but we ran out last week." A few minutes later, an enormous man strolled in. Instantly, I recognized him as Phil Harrison, Shaq's dad*. Immediately, the bank manager ran up to him. "Mr. Harrison, so good to see you. How is Shaquille doing? Would you like a calendar?" I think he walked out with 5 calendars. The first customer didn't dare say a thing.
*Phil Harrison is not Shaq's biological father, but seeing Shaq's love for him is incredibly moving. I saw one interview where the reported asked about his biological father. Shaq instantly replied, "I only have one father, and that's the man who was always there for my mother and me, my dad, Phil Harrison."