“I’ll say this, and I mean this,” Heat executive Pat Riley began, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “Shaq’s acquisition was bigger than any acquisition that we ever made, including the Big Three.”
Shaquille O’neal, after eight seasons and three titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, was traded to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick after Riley met with the Lakers about coaching in Los Angeles. It was then he learned of the possibility of coaching O’Neal, and Riley began talks with the Lakers to bring O’Neal to Miami to pair him with emerging star Dwyane Wade.
“The seminal moment to really make us really, really legitimate. He turned our franchise around. He gave us real legitimacy,” said Riley on the O’Neal trade.
And Riley isn’t exactly wrong, here. Before O’Neal arrived, the Heat had very little history and didn’t have a defined organizational culture — at least not one grounded in winning. While it was Wade who earned all of the accolades following their NBA Finals win over the Dallas Mavericks, O’Neal was instrumental during their title run contributing 18 and 10 during the course of the postseason while effectively working as the big brother role for an emerging Wade.
The flip side the the argument is that Riley landed both LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the same summer — creating a Big-3 that went on to play in four consecutive NBA Finals, winning two of them. While the success on the court is empirically superior to what O’Neal brought during his tenure, it’s hard to imagine Riley being able to even pull that trigger without Shaq helping to build the foundation of a winning culture in Miami.
While Riley is ostensibly trying to pander to the fact that O’Neal is set to be inducted into the NBA’s Hall of Fame this year, it’s hard to disagree with his assessment when you look at the trajectory of the Heat both before and after the trade that Riley says changed everything.