Commentary

Shaq seen as the missing piece

Doc Rivers and veteran superstar are clearly committed to winning 2010-11 title

Updated: August 11, 2010, 9:13 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers flew his entire staff to Boston on Monday for movie night. Hopefully they weren't expecting a viewing of "Inception."

No, Rivers queued up a horror flick instead. Call it "Termination": Boston's coaches all watched Game 7 of the NBA Finals for the first time since falling to the Los Angeles Lakers on June 17.

No need for popcorn; the replay left everyone sick to their stomachs. Rivers admitted it wasn't a particularly fun way to spend a couple hours, especially watching the Kendrick Perkins-less Celtics get dominated on the glass by the Lakers.

Fortunately, a little bit of Kazaam cheered him up.

Rivers joined Shaquille O'Neal at his glitzy introductory press conference Tuesday morning at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint, and after handing over a Diesel-sized No. 36 jersey to the four-time NBA champion, he vowed the addition would help Boston avenge that June loss.

[+] EnlargeShaq
Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images"For me, it wasn't really a tough decision to make," said Shaq. "I just wanted to be with a great team and I wanted to continue to win."

"When you see offensive rebound after offensive rebound after offensive rebound, then you see [Shaquille O'Neal] sitting next to you, you feel like, 'Well, we've addressed one of the areas that we can say lost the title for us," Rivers said.

And therein lies the theme that dominated O'Neal's introduction: winning another NBA title. That's why Shaq came to Boston and that's why the Celtics brought in Shaq: another run at Banner 18.

"Obviously, the franchise has a rich history of winning," said O'Neal. "For me, it wasn't really a tough decision to make. I just wanted to be with a great team and I wanted to continue to win."

O'Neal smiled broadly while recalling that his original NBA goal was to win as many world titles as Bill Russell (11), whose name he evoked on numerous occasions during his press conference. Knowing that's no longer a reality, O'Neal said he'd settle for ending his career with five or six NBA crowns.

Six days after the Celtics officially inked O'Neal, he made his grand Boston debut decked out in a pinstriped suit and a Bruce Bowen-approved bowtie. On a makeshift stage on the practice court where he'll spend much of the next two years of his life, O'Neal held a tame -- by his standards -- 20-minute Q&A in front of a throng of television cameras and a pack of youth basketball campers who crammed into the makeshift stands to watch the spectacle.

O'Neal said all the right things, from accepting a reserve role to squashing any beef with incumbent (yet injured) starting center Kendrick Perkins. ("Have we had good battles and bad battles?" Shaq asked. "Of course we have, but that's all over now because we're teammates.")

And O'Neal kept referring back to Russell.

"[The Celtics organization is] rich in tradition," O'Neal said. "One of the first names I heard growing up in Newark, N.J, my father took me to the park and he was like, 'You got to be a shot blocker, like Bill Russell. You got to be dominant like, Wilt Chamberlain. You have to be a scorer, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.' This is when I was like 5 or 6 years old, my father used to scream these names. I'm looking at him like, 'Who the hell are those people?'

"As I got older and understood the game and learned the history of the game, it's rich in tradition. Mr. Russell was one of the first legends to reach out to me and have a certain conversation and let me know what I needed to do to get to that next level. I always want to thank the great Mr. Russell -- greatest big man ever."

Without offering too much detail, Rivers and O'Neal talked about a meet-up in Italy a few weeks back, where the coach stressed that the bottom line was winning in Boston and that egos were to be thrown out the window. The player agreed and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said a phone call from O'Neal's representatives arrived a short while after, suggesting that Shaq was willing to come to Boston on the team's terms (veteran-minimum contract and a diminished role).

It seems highly appropriate that Rivers and O'Neal met in Italy. Both are Orlando residents and could have just as easily met up outside Cinderella's castle (Rivers did say they had a follow-up conversation at his house). But Italy is the birthplace of Ubuntu, Boston's team-first mentality that spawned during a preseason visit to Rome with a newly united Big Three before the start of the 2007-08 championship season.

And Ubuntu is exactly what Rivers needed O'Neal to buy into before offering his blessing for a union. Rivers admitted he's still unsure if the chemistry will work, but in a locker room full of egos, he's managed to produce two Finals appearances in three seasons, so he's confident he can find a way to keep things in line.

Winning, after all, tends to make everything better, and all Rivers and O'Neal wanted to talk about Tuesday was winning.

O'Neal "So far I like 'The Big Shamrock.' But I might go with 'The Big Green Mile,' too, I'm not sure yet."

-- Shaquille O'Neal, on what his new nickname will be

A few other Shaquilicious quotes from O'Neal's introduction:

  • On his Boston nickname: "So far I like 'The Big Shamrock.' But I might go with 'The Big Green Mile,' too, I'm not sure yet."
  • On choosing No. 36: "Actually, there's kind of a simple way of figuring it out: I've always been in the 30s, this is my sixth team that I'm with, so 36."
  • On telling Vanity Fair he'd ground his kids if they develop a Boston accent: "I told them that I would ground them because they're from Florida. I want them to keep that Floridian accent. I love [the Boston accent]. I think it's very, very sexy. But at my house, you have to understand, being grounded means like go downstairs and make me a sandwich. Grounded is not like go to your room. Grounded is like go downstairs and make me a sandwich or start the car for me."
  • On who convinced him to sign so cheap: "His name is Doc Rivers."
  • On winning titles: "Since 1992, all I've ever wanted to do is just leave my mark and win championships. At the millennium, I was able to win three in a row and then go to Miami and win another one. When you win and you keep winning, you just want to keep winning. For me, I always talk about my book. So when I'm done and I close my book, I would like to have either five or six championships. To me, in my eyes, if I don't get those five or six, I'll be a little down on myself. For a kid from the projects of Newark, N.J., I think I've had a pretty dominant career. But me personally, my book, I would like to see Shaquille O'Neal have five or six championships."
  • On a Boston-based episode of "Shaq Vs.": "It'll probably be me against 'Big Baby' [Glen Davis] to see who can eat the most clam chowder."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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