|SHAQUILLE O'NEALLots of plans for retirement (Steve C. Wilson/associated press)|
His "Superman" nickname was snatched away by Dwight Howard. He is no longer the most intimidating force in sports, let alone basketball. And while his politically incorrect sense of humor is as alive as ever, his dominating game has slowed dramatically.
Yes, good things always do come to an end. And the 36-year-old Shaquille O'Neal can see the finish line to his illustrious NBA career while knowing there will be a lot more to his life than basketball.
"I've made a lot of friends. I have a lot of opportunities. I'm going to do a lot of things," said O'Neal, who has one year left on his contract after this one. "Being the educated guy that I am, I can probably do whatever I want to do."
"The Big Aristotle" has won four NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal and is an 11-time All-Star. "The Big Diesel" was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary team at just 24 years old, was the 2000 Most Valuable Player, and is a three-time Finals MVP. "The Big Cactus" - his nickname now with the Phoenix Suns - is also a hilarious quote machine who once called himself "quotatious" and said, "Our offense is like the Pythagorean theorem: There is no answer." His mouth also has gotten him into trouble, too.
"All I wanted was one [championship] back in the day," O'Neal said. "Then I won it, and I got two and then I got three and then four. I'm happy. When I'm done, I'll have a hell of a book."
The final chapters are being written now.
O'Neal, who averaged a career-low 12.9 points last season, has shown he still can be effective by averaging 11.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in his first two games this season. But foes are respectful, not scared anymore.
When the Suns failed to advance to the second round of the playoffs after acquiring O'Neal in a midseason deal, he took the blame over Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.
"If we don't win, that's my fault," O'Neal said. "I accept it. I'm harder on myself than any of you guys could ever be on me. That's why all of you writers don't bother me. I accept that. I've been that way since my rookie year.
"If you want to be the man, you have to accept what comes with being the man. You want to be the man and you want to make a lot of money and you want to be able to do your thing. But when things don't go right, the man gets blamed, period."
With a full Suns training camp under his belt and a defensive-minded new coach in Terry Porter, O'Neal feels the Suns will shine brightly, especially since "the pressure is not on us."
"We have all the keys," O'Neal said. "We have shooters. We have defenders. I know everybody is overlooking us."
Once he retires, O'Neal will have countless opportunities awaiting him in the entertainment world, plus TNT and ESPN begging for his straightforward and humorous analysis. And he will be welcomed in his beloved field of law enforcement.
So don't feel bad for Shaq, because with a larger-than-life persona, he is too big to ever be moved out of the spotlight.
"Lord knows it's going to be a sad day when I leave the game," he said. "I know you guys are going to miss me. But I'm going to have fun in my after-NBA life."
Robinson offers a little double talk
Spurs great David Robinson was not able to repeat as an NBA champion, getting two attempts in his illustrious career. While he believes the Celtics have the talent to repeat, he warns that it won't be easy.
"Things got to go right," said Robinson. "Physically, you got be healthy. Good things have to happen. They have the nucleus back. They look good. They look like they can make it happen. But there has to be a lot of little things rolling into place, too.
"I remember one year Timmy [Duncan] got hurt and he wasn't even available for the playoffs. And that's stuff you can't forget. It happens. You have to keep your fingers crossed and keep playing hard. But they're in a great position to do it, though."
On the Spurs, Robinson said, "They're great. Manu [Ginobili] is going to be out a little bit [with an ankle injury]. But Timmy looks great. He got some real rest this summer. Tony Parker's at the top of his game.
"They have a lot of question marks on some young guys. They're going to need some guys to make some shots. But we got the pieces."
Robinson was in Boston on business last week and to support his ex-Spurs teammate, Doc Rivers, as the Celtics opened the season with a win over Cleveland.
"I'm just being a dad a lot and cheering those guys in San Antonio," Robinson said of his life now. "I'm just trying to keep life on the simple side. I just started a business. I'm working on that a little bit and trying to get that kicked off."
Number of games Sam Cassell needs to reach 1,000 for his career.
"I'm serious about it. No green."
Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic, still bitter about the NBA Finals, insisting to Los Angeles reporters that he will refuse to wear green this season because of the Celtics
For the least expensive single-game tickets in the NBA, head to Texas. A look at the top - or bottom - three:
$2 Dallas Mavericks
$5 Memphis Grizzlies
$6.50 Utah Jazz
Cost analysis: The Celtics have the third-highest average ticket price in the league at $68.55, behind the Lakers ($93.25) and Knicks ($70.51), according to the Team Marketing Report. The Celtics' average ticket is up 4.8 percent, but they do sell seats for as low as $10. The Fan Cost Index, which adds the cost of four average tickets, two small beers, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two programs, and two caps, is up 8.5 percent to $389.20 for Boston. The league average for a ticket is $49.47, up 2.8 percent.
Seat of power: Sacramento mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson, the three-time NBA All-Star, recently caused a stir when a security guard allowed him and his driver after-hours entrance into the City Council chambers, where Johnson briefly sat in the mayor's chair before being caught by a council member. City manager Ray Kerridge said the security guard violated policy by allowing Johnson in. "The guy was excited," Johnson said to the Sacramento Bee. "To me, that's the kind of customer service you want all city employees to have." Johnson, who is running against two-term incumbent Heather Fargo, has received endorsements from the likes of Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Shaquille O'Neal. "I don't think it was criminal, I just think it was kind of bizarre," Fargo told the Bee. "Seeing him sit in my chair was kind of unsettling. I guess he's feeling pretty sure of himself and wanted to see where he was going to be."
Piston needs clippers: Celtics guard Ray Allen joined Michael Jordan and several other NBA stars, including Rip Hamilton, in Las Vegas before training camp to take part in promotional work for Jordan's Jumpman brand. Allen said he talked to Hamilton about his fingernails, which prompted Allen to wear an arm sleeve against the Pistons in the playoffs last season. "He was saying how when he saw me come out the next game with an arm sleeve on, they started laughing about it," said Allen. "And then I said, 'Look, man, I'm wearing an arm sleeve because . . .' And then I picked his hand up and looked at his nails. And his nails were way out. He said, 'Man, I didn't know I cut people up like that. People tell me all the time that I need to cut my nails, but I don't know what I'm doing.' I told him, 'Come on, dog, you know why you're using them.' "
Free throws: NBA sources said the Nuggets have inquired about obtaining Denver native Chauncey Billups from the Pistons for Allen Iverson. Because of Iverson's lucrative contract ($20.8 million) it would take more than Billups ($11 million), though . . . An NBA source said the Knicks have been dangling either Zach Randolph or Eddy Curry to Golden State for Al Harrington, who asked for a trade since he doesn't see eye to eye with coach Don Nelson . . . Celtics second-round draft pick Semih Erden missed the first three games for his Turkish team, Fenerbahce Ulker, with a foot sprain, and it's uncertain when he will return . . . With a long list of forwards, the Nets seem willing to deal former Boston College star Sean Williams, Stromile Swift, or Trenton Hassell, according to an NBA source . . . An NBA source said the Trail Blazers seem interested in moving some of their deep young talent for veterans, to add experience and to spare them from having to pay big contracts down the road . . . An NBA source said that if the Knicks waive Stephon Marbury, the Nuggets would have serious interest in signing him . . . Asked whether he had to really apply himself to get to know the Eastern Conference after many years in the West, first-year Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said with a laugh: "To be honest with you, I don't know my personnel. The Knicks are one team I didn't have to scout last year [while coaching Phoenix]." . . . Former Globe NBA writer Peter May will have a book signing for "Top of the World," about the Celtics' 2007-08 championship season, today at Isabella restaurant (566 High St.) in Dedham.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org