22 years ago today, the NBA Draft was held in Portland, Oregon. The Orlando Magic had the first overall pick and selected Shaquille O’Neal.
The LSU center was dominant in college. During his sophomore season, Shaq’s per-40 minute averages were: 35.1 points, 18.7 rebounds and 6.4 blocks. He was physically overpowering in the post and ran the floor with the grace of a point guard, as you can see in this video:
Heading into the ’92 Draft, the Magic had just finished their third season in the league, winning only 21 games in the previous season. Shaq made an impact right away. The rookie center averaged 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks and shot 56.2 percent from the field. He was named Rookie of the Year and was a starter at the All-Star Game. There was no adjustment period for Shaq – he made the jump from college to the pros and immediately overpowered the competition:
The Magic won 41 games in Shaq’s rookie season. The team selected Penny Hardaway in the subsequent draft and by Shaq’s third season, the Magic found themselves in the NBA Finals where they were swept by the Houston Rockets. The Magic were swept again the following postseason, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
That summer, Shaq hit free agency. He would eventually sign a seven year, $120 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. Just a day before the signing was official, the Orlando Sentinel polled readers on whether they thought Shaq was worth that amount of money. Shockingly, 91 percent of them said no.
In 2011, Shaq was asked whether the results of the polling had an impact of him leaving Orlando:
Fifty percent of it was that I was selfish. I had a lot of stuff going on … movies and albums … that I couldn’t pass up,” Shaq said following a packed retirement announcement at his palatial Isleworth home with the Magic-blue tile roof. “Forty percent of it was the Sentinel poll and the fact that I was very sensitive at a young age. Ten percent of it was that Bob (Magic president Bob Vander Weide) and the organization didn’t move quickly enough (to match the Lakers’ offer).”
Shaq would go onto win three championships in Los Angeles, before returning to Florida to team up with Dwyane Wade to win a fourth title with the Miami Heat. A fun aside of the ’92 draft: its first three picks — Shaq, Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner — all ended up on the 2004-05 Heat.
Meanwhile, the Magic were spurned by another big man, Dwight Howard, a couple of years ago, and now await their next franchise player to come along.
What do you think?
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