Shaquille O'Neal's No. 32 jersey first to be retired by Magic

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Shaquille O'Neal was Orlando's first in lots of ways. First No. 1 overall draft pick. First player to make an All-Star team in aMagicuniform. First rookie of the year. First All-NBA selection. And the first big-time superstar to leave the franchise.

It's that last part that he figured might cost him.

O'Neal never thought that the Magic would raise his jersey to the rafters of their arena. But he was wrong, and Tuesday night, Orlando retired O'Neal's No. 32 -- another first for the team and its first star. Most fans stayed for the postgame ceremony, even after the Magic fell toOklahoma City127-113.

"You know, there's an old saying: Never forget where you come from," O'Neal said. "And my professional career started here. I've been living here mostly all my life. The fans have been hospitable. The people have been very, very hospitable. I never thought this day would happen."

Paolo Banchero, who led the Magic on Tuesday with 23 points and 10 assists, said he enjoyed a playoff-type atmosphere -- noticing extra energy in the building because of the celebration for O'Neal that was happening postgame.

"The defense chants and all that, it was great to just be in that environment," Banchero said. "Great job by the fans for putting that environment together for us. We couldn't come up with a win but just as an organization, as a team, we would love for that to just become the new norm around here."

The Magic, who are celebrating their 35th season, drafted O'Neal No. 1 overall in 1992. They've never retired a number for a player, but decided their anniversary season was the right time. Many of O'Neal's former Orlando teammates were there Tuesday night, including Penny Hardaway, Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson. O'Neal brought Anderson to the lectern at one point in the ceremony, telling him he should have been the first to get the jersey retirement from the Magic.

"There's no one more deserving to be the first than Shaq," Magic CEO Alex Martins said. "Shaq put the Orlando Magic on the map. And the foundation of his Hall of Fame career started right here in Orlando."

O'Neal -- who has No. 34 retired by the Los Angeles Lakers and No. 32 retired by the Miami Heat -- is the third player to have his jersey retired by three franchises, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Pete Maravich.

Chamberlain's No. 13 has been retired by the Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors and the Lakers. Maravich had No. 44 retired by the Atlanta Hawks and No. 7 retired by the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans -- even though he never played for that franchise. His number is retired in New Orleans because he played there for the Jazz and went toLSU.

"It means that every franchise you played for, they enjoyed you," O'Neal said. "The fans enjoyed you. The people enjoyed you. They appreciated your hard work."

There are 11 players -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Clyde Drexler, Julius Erving, Elvin Hayes, Bob Lanier, Moses Malone, Earl Monroe, Dikembe Mutombo, Oscar Robertson, Nate Thurmond and Charles Barkley -- to have jerseys retired by two franchises for whom they played. Barkley, like O'Neal, is part of the award-winning cast of Turner Sports' "Inside The NBA" program.

Many other players have been honored by multiple teams or in multiple ways. Bill Russell's No. 6 is retired byBostonand, after the Hall of Famer's death, was retired leaguewide by commissioner Adam Silver. Michael Jordan never played in Miami; his No. 23 is retired there. Kobe Bryant had both of his numbers, 8 and 24, retired by the Lakers.

The Magic were 70-176 in their first three seasons, then got O'Neal and went 41-41 in his rookie year, 50-32 with the team's first playoff appearance in his second season, 57-25 with a trip to the NBA Finals in 1994-95 and finally 60-22 -- still the franchise record for wins -- in his fourth and final season with Orlando.

The ceremony had O'Neal seated adjacent to center court on a throne, one big enough to make the 7-footer seem small. The stories flowed -- the one about O'Neal arriving in the city known for Walt Disney World wearing Mickey Mouse ears seemed to delight the crowd -- and O'Neal savored them all.

The banner was hoisted amid a display of fireworks in a darkened arena, roughly an hour after the game ended.

"There's no other place I would have wanted to start my career," said O'Neal, whose words were often drowned out by cheers. "Orlando will always have a special place in my heart."

O'Neal learned how to be a pro in Orlando. His first few months in the city, he said, were spent living in an airport hotel with his entire family. By the time Scott explained to him that he needed to buy a house, O'Neal said he had run up a $900,000 hotel bill.

He speaks with reverence about his time in Orlando, and now having gone through four jersey retirements -- LSU also gave him the honor, along with the three NBA clubs -- O'Neal made no secret of what this one meant.

"Truthfully speaking, this will probably be the most impressive one," O'Neal said.

O'Neal left Orlando after the 1995-96 season for the Lakers, having played 295 regular-season games with the Magic. But he remains sixth on the team's all-time scoring list -- four of the five players ahead of him played at least twice as many games for Orlando -- and third all-time in rebounds for the Magic.

"This is where it all started," O'Neal said.

And it's where his number will sway.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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